Over a year in the making, SPA is launching a race, justice and politics minor
The new minor is the first of its kind in the US and will be available this fall
The School of Public Affairs is launching a new interdisciplinary minor in race, justice and politics in fall 2022, which will address the intersection of these three core concepts. Offered by both the Department of Justice, Law and Criminology and the Department of Government, the minor is scheduled to appear in the American University course catalog this summer.
SPA Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Saul Newman said he first proposed the minor about a year and a half ago. The idea came in response to several external factors, including the climate after the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020. Newman also recognized interest by faculty and students in SPA.
“I had noticed over the last several years that SPA had hired a large number of faculty who had expertise in the area of race, politics and justice,” he said. “So we now have a cohort of people who are sort of skilled at teaching in that area.”
SPA Dean Vicky Wilkins echoed this sentiment. Wilkins said that SPA was well-equipped to introduce a minor addressing these issues, thanks to expertise already present within the faculty.
“We’re fortunate because our School of Public Affairs has Justice, Law and Criminology, Government and Public Administration and Policy,” Wilkins said. “We’re well-suited to cover that area and provide real expertise and knowledge on the subject for our students.”
The minor is available to all students, but whether the requirements can be fulfilled depends on how far along a student is in their degree. Because the program is new, upperclassmen may not be able to complete all the minor course requirements without delaying graduation. However, Newman said it is possible that students have already taken classes that count towards the minor.
Students had also exhibited a discernible interest in courses pertaining to race and justice, Newman said. The SPA offers a number of one-credit courses in political and social activism as a part of its Changemakers Series, and he said the course on justice reform, which relates heavily to issues of race and justice, has consistently been the most popular.
“I felt the combination of what was going on in the United States at the time, our increasing focus on that among the faculty we were hiring and also the fact that our students had a very strong interest in issues of race meant that it was the right time to talk about these issues,” Newman said.
After initial conversations with Wilkins and faculty members whose courses relate to race, Newman and Wilkins approached associate professor Kareem Jordan. Jordan teaches in the Department of Justice, Law and Criminology and serves as the SPA director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I asked him if he’d be willing to sort of take the lead in actually putting together the specific proposal,” Newman said. “He and I worked together on it, and he worked with various other people in the School of Public Affairs to put it together.”
The race, justice and politics minor consists of three required courses — two in government and one in JLC — and four electives. There are 14 electives for students to choose from, including courses within SPA and some housed in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I hope this simplifies that for them and students who want to explore these topics and learn about these issues can now easily find them,” Wilkins said.
During a Zoom information session held on March 21, Jordan described the minor as policy-driven and foundational for a greater understanding of how race influences government systems and criminal justice processes.
Wilkins said she hopes the new minor can serve as a model for the creation of other programs.
“I think it’s an important part that we play, not only to our students and each other in these conversations, but to other institutions,” Wilkins said. “Here’s how we’ve done it, here's how we can help you with this and actually take a leadership role in it.”
Both Jordan and Newman highlighted the uniqueness of the race, justice and politics minor. Part of the process for proposing and designing a new minor is to research similar programs at other universities around the country, and Newman said while he encountered degrees that addressed race and politics, or race and justice, none are exactly like what the SPA is offering.
“As far as I can tell, there’s no race, justice and politics minor in the United States,” Newman said. “So we’re happy that this is gonna be the first, and we hope it’s successful.”