Social justice class gives students hands-on opportunities


Brian Achenbach/Iowa State Daily

Monica Haddad, associate professor of community and regional planning, talks to her students with a guest speaker. Haddad teaches a class on social justice which centers around identifying and brainstorming solutions for social justice.

Elaine Godfrey

The experimental course Social Justice and Planning discusses racial segregation, poverty alleviation, immigration policy and women’s empowerment. The course is in its second year of encouraging ISU students to get involved with social justice issues.

The course is discussion-based, emphasizing social justice concerns in a globalized society. 

Associate Professor Monica Haddad and Assistant Professor Jane Rongerude collaborated to create the class last year, in an effort to provide students of all majors the opportunity to learn and study these complex societal problems.

“I didn’t want to do a traditional class,” Haddad said. Instead, the course incorporates outside speakers, videos from social advocates and hands-on projects in order to get students as active as possible in their community.

Haddad wants her students to be more than just observers in a world full of social justice issues.

“In our daily life, we are dealing with issues related to social justice,” Haddad said. “So to try to connect what we are learning in the classroom with the real world, I decided to have activities like the service learning project.”

Every student will complete a 20-hour project with a non-governmental organization dealing with social justice issues. Students will work on their projects in March and April and will be expected to present on their progress at the end of the semester.

Last year, Haddad’s students participated in projects for several Des Moines and central Iowa-based organizations including Proteus, Community Housing Initiatives and Urban Dreams. In some cases, their service projects ended up leading to summer internship opportunities.

Haddad, who has taught at Iowa State for 11 years, has her master’s degree in low income housing policies and earned her Ph.D. studying human development as it relates to planning.

“I come from a developing country, Brazil, that has one of the largest income disparities in the whole world,” she said. “I was an observer. I grew up seeing this discrepancy in society, so I think that is what ended up motivating me to go into planning.”

Haddad points out that the class is important for any student who wants to effect change in society, regardless of his or her major.

“I think that when you are young, your mind is open,” Haddad said. “Taking the class is going to build your knowledge and awareness about a lot of things so that when you leave ISU, you will be able to contribute.”

Michelle Richardson, a senior in global resource systems and animal science, is currently enrolled in the class because of her interest in human trafficking and international justice issues.

“I’m interested in fighting for justice,” Richardson said. “I’m excited to see the needs of the communities around here and knowing how we individually can get involved.”

For students like John Scopelliti, a sophomore in the class, learning about social justice is important for professional reasons, as well.

“This is probably something essential to learn if I do planning,” Scopelliti said. “We want to help the community, and that’s the voice we listen to, to make sure that everyone has the same opportunities as everyone else.”

Scopelliti, hopes the class will set him apart in his community and regional planning major. “Planning-wise, everyone wants to address the same things,” he said. “I want to learn about going beyond the lines and being different.”

Haddad is pleased that the course is being offered for a second time and that students of a variety of majors are taking interest.

“Regardless of the type of job, you can always try to contribute to the big picture, even with little actions,” Haddad said. “Taking a class like this, you will always remember that you can open opportunities to people who are left behind.”

The class, CRP 460X, is held every Monday and Wednesday afternoon this semester, and it will be offered again in the spring of 2015, taught by Rongerude.