"All of that said, we think it is important to say that just because we wrote these and you read them that does not mean our path to social justice knowledge is complete. There is always more to learn, always more nuances to understand, and always more hegemonic social constructions to unlearn. No matter our intentions, the work of justice is never done, but we can all work to have impact today, tomorrow, and forever." (Bussmann, Altamirano, Hansen, Johnson, & Keer, 2022)
Definition: Change theories represent models and theories about how and why change happens. They are instrumental in altering organizational systems and structures that recognize the patterns of human behavior that lead to a change or a series of change events. These theories can be used during the initial planning stages of a project to attempt to manage and/or foresee different outcomes as the project moves forward. In this way, change theories help to inform similarly named theories of change, which are specific to a given project and its design, administration, and measurement. Thus, the theory of change is a process statement of how and why a specific change is happening and may rely on a broader change theory as its theoretical foundation (Reinholz & Andrews, 2020).
Science Example: In order to better understand how new ideas take hold within her discipline, Syen, a physicist, decided to use the Everett Rogers Innovation Diffusion change theory, defined as knowledge → persuasion → decision → implementation → confirmation, as her theoretical foundation. More specifically she wanted to test her theory of change hypothesis that during the persuasion step, ideas communicated through conference presentations are more persuasive, i.e. are more likely to move on to the implementation step than those that are primarily communicated through journal articles (Rogers, 2003).
Definition: Critical Race Theory (CRT) was developed in the 1970s by United States legal scholars who were interested in the ways in which racism was enshrined in the law, particularly as a strategy to roll back the gains of the civil rights movement. CRT builds on previous theoretical frameworks, including critical legal studies and radical feminism, and incorporates more contemporary concepts such as intersectionality. Notable scholars of critical race theory include but are not limited to Derrick Bell (widely considered to be the “father” of the movement), Alan Freeman, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Harris, and Cheryl Harris. Furthermore, scholars in many fields of study have applied CRT to their disciplines. Critical race theory has been purposefully mischaracterized in the past and present for politically motivated reasons as part of a strategy to undermine the influence of racial justice concepts on policy and popular opinion. Anti-critical race theory discourse demonizes and denounces CRT and is rarely based on a sound understanding of the theory itself.
Critical race theorists’ tenets include:
Science Example: Engineering Education researchers, Dr. Joel Alejandro Mejia, Dr. Renata A. Revelo, and Dr. Alice L. Pawley (2020), wrote about applying critical race theory in changing the culture of their courses. They based their ideas for institutional change on the tenets of CRT and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s color-blind racism theory as explicated in his book, Racism without Racists. Engineering educators should interrupt unconscious and conscious bias in interactions with BIPOC students and faculty, realize that many students have multiple issues to deal with outside the classroom, and not depoliticize viewpoints in courses (Mejia et al., 2020).
[Critical Race Theory]
Definition: Cultural wealth is the vast variety of unique knowledge, skills, talents, experiences, creations, etc., of a marginalized community that can be undervalued, denigrated, ignored, or stolen/appropriated by the dominant culture. Instead of viewing all marginalized persons as lacking the advantages inherent in whiteness, the cultural wealth framework recognizes that BIPOC’s lived experiences and cultural/community creations hold inherent value and should not be viewed as a deficit or as commodities.
The following assets allow BIPOC to prevail despite the dominant culture’s persistent oppression:
Cultural taxation can occur when the line between celebration and exploitation is crossed, and those with power within the organization abdicate their responsibility for making space for systemic change. For instance, cultural taxation occurs when BIPOC are asked to “serv[e] on an affirmative action committee or task force that culminates in the rehashing of many of the same recommendations that we have seen in the past with little real structural change ever taking place” (Padilla, 1994, p. 26).
Science Example 1: When a young black mathematician was hired for a tenure-track faculty position at a large predominantly white doctoral degree granting institution, she was quickly offered a number of positions on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) related committees within the university, including the chair role for the Mathematics EDI council. She was also told that one of the main reasons she was hired was due to her large, culturally diverse following on social media where she communicated mathematics to the public. When she went up for tenure, though, the tenure committee denied her candidacy, citing as one of their reasons that the mathematician did not fulfill the service requirement. The department’s tenure policies only considered service to the mathematical community and did not place any value on EDI work. They also referred to her poor research publication record, completely dismissing as not scholarly her continued public scholarship on social media. This was despite the fact that she had more than doubled her following and told the story of mathematics, including her own research, in an understandable and engaging way to the public through the use of multiple modalities from illustrations to memes to viral dance challenges.
Science Example 2: Braun, Gormally, and Clark (2017) explored scientific research mentorships where the mentee was D/deaf. Their study administered a survey that included an examination of Deaf cultural wealth. The least effective pairing of mentor-mentee involved mentors who viewed their mentees through a deficit lens. These mentors were not aware of the value of American Sign Language (ASL) as language capital and did not facilitate the students’ ability to access accommodations (navigational capital). Successful pairings happened when the mentor, regardless of hearing status, had experience working with the Deaf community and strongly encouraged the mentee to participate in the community.
[Cultural Wealth and Cultural Taxation]
Definition: Decolonization is the process of disassembling the structures and systems of colonial power and returning sovereignty, self-determination, land, and power to the people dispossessed through colonialism. When this term is mis-used in a metaphorical sense in a way that does not lead to meaningful decolonial acts, it can help the colonial powers by enabling what Tuck and Yang (2012) call “settler moves to innocence.” ‘Settler,’ in this usage, refers to North American settler colonialism, which describes an invasive and ongoing presence of settlers and originated with the European invasion. These invaders violently severed Indigenous people from their lifeways, epistemologies, identities, and land. After which, the settlers enforced their Eurocentric way of life, including the forced transatlantic displacement of stolen and enslaved African peoples and their descendants (Garba & Sorentino, 2020).
Decolonization work encompasses purposeful actions including the rematriation of land, the return of stolen cultural artifacts, the right to autonomous rule, and reparations for Black and Indigenous people, but also extends well past land, material goods, and political power. Additionally, decolonization works to recognize, elevate, and restore the Indigenous lifeways, epistemologies, science, and spiritual beliefs that colonial powers, colonizers, and settlers have oppressed or attempted to destroy. Importantly, it is not up to the colonial powers how this rematriation and revitalization appears or is managed (Klymiuk, 2021).
Science Example: Science Example: For over 100 years of ever-increasing death and damage from wildfires, the United States has attempted to control fire through policies of fire suppression. These policies not only do not control the burns, they also disconnect many Indigenous tribes from cultural practices of controlled burns that help manage wildfires, encourage local food growth and are intimately tied to many tribes' connection with their land. In 2013, after many years of activism and hard work, members of the Yurok tribe in California were granted permission to do a prescribed burn on their ancestral lands (Buono, 2020). This small fire led to the creation of the Cultural Fire Management Council that developed a fire training program that has brought together Indigenous and settler-colonial fire practitioners and hosted a number of controlled burns in the years since it was created. This collaboration then led to the founding of the Indigenous Peoples Burning Network that includes tribes from California, Nevada, Oregon, Minnesota, and Texas and pueblos in New Mexico.
Definition: Epistemic violence, which comes from a colonial analysis by Gayarti Chakravorty Spivak, highlights how those who are positioned as “Other” by colonial powers have their ability to speak for and about themselves and to make knowledge claims subjugated (Spivak, 1988). This violence against and through knowledge results in “the marginalization of specific groups through laws and discourse” (Brichta, 2021, para. 1). Epistemic violence also plays an equal role in the domination and exploitation of others through political, economic, and military violence. This is because it is “the construction of epistemic frameworks that legitimise and enshrine those practices of domination” (Galván-Álvarez, 2010, p. 12).
Even when an episteme is not being used for violence, it may have injustice inherent in it. Thus, epistemic injustice is the silencing, distrusting, misrepresentation, and subordination of the knowledge and ways of knowing of minoritized, marginalized, and other non-dominant groups. Though it was Miranda Fricker (2007) who coined this term, the ideas behind it have been understood for over a century. For example, Anna Julia Cooper wrote about the suppression of Black women’s ideas in 1892 and Sojourner Truth spoke about Black women being denied the identity of being knowers due to racism and sexism in 1867 (May, 2014). Fricker (2007) identified the two main forms of epistemic injustice as: testimonial injustice and hermeneutical injustice. Testimonial injustice refers to when people or groups are mistrusted due to their non-dominant group identities. Hermeneutical injustice refers to the inability to understand the lived experiences of people in non-dominant groups, by both themselves and members of other groups. This is due to those experiences not having even been conceptualized since those who have experienced them are excluded from taking part in the cultural discourse that creates language and concepts (Kidd et al., 2017).
While epistemic violence and epistemic injustice are two distinct concepts divided by a very fine line, these two phrases are at times misunderstood and used interchangeably.
Science Example 1: Rankin, Thomas, and Erete (2021) presented and wrote about the epistemic violence that Black women encounter throughout their computer science educational experiences in K-12 schools, predominantly white colleges and institutions, and internships. In their study, they interviewed 18 Black women in computer science regarding their educational experiences. The findings offered many examples of epistemic violence against these Black women, including one Black woman’s experience of the white male students (her project teammates) dismissing her coding ability by refusing her ideas and help even after their own continued failures. When it became clear they were never going to work together she did all the work herself and came back to them with a completed project. They expressed astonishment that she was able to solve their problem and then claimed their ideas were behind her work. Another Black woman described, “getting stared at for wearing my hair unprocessed or...just being a Black woman. And it wasn’t even just the institution where I was interning” (p. 806). There were also the constant comments she received regarding her very presence in the surrounding community that ranged from shock at her being a member of the lab to people questioning her right to even exist in that community. Ultimately, the authors confirmed that Black women experience persistent, ongoing epistemic violence. They propose intersectional computing in order to “provide CS education with the necessary vocabulary and tools (including theories and methods that have yet to be developed) for examining how power plays out in the field of Computing so that it can be identified, understood, and, ultimately, redistributed to those who have been disenfranchised” (p. 803).
Science Example 2: While working on a research program aimed at unifying an area of mathematical category theory known as Topos theory, Olivia Caramello, an early career mathematician, published a series of proofs for theorems that had never been publicly proven before. After her work was published however, some senior category theorists began to claim this work was unoriginal and part of the commonly known folk knowledge of category theory. They made these claims even though a leading researcher in the field had argued that one of the theorems was false before Caramello published a proof that it was not. Caramello (n.d.) wrote about her experience on her website and described the main reason these mathematicians gave her for their criticism was that she was being “arrogant and unrespectful towards the experts of the old generation” (para. 7). This use of power by established category theorists to impugn Caramello led to her having articles rejected, collaboration proposals turned down, and needing to leave her position at Cambridge University.
[Epistemic Violence and Epistemic Injustice]
Definition: A set of principles that inform and guide practitioners to acknowledge the impact of harm and trauma (deficit framing) and the impact of individual and collective healing (asset framing). Being trauma-informed means being aware of the different kinds of trauma that exist, how the trauma can be exacerbated in an institutional setting, and how those effects can be mitigated. When using trauma-informed approaches, a practitioner presumes that histories of trauma will be present in any group of people and shapes their practice in ways that avoid re-traumatizing or tokenizing individuals. Trauma-informed practices have become widespread in response to recognizing many people bear the weight of traumatic lived experiences.
However, trauma-informed practices are primarily focused on individuals who have been harmed without addressing the larger social and cultural issues at play and centers trauma to the exclusion of the possibility of wellbeing. In response to this critique, practitioners have argued for applying a healing centered approach that is culturally informed and focuses on collective wellbeing (Ginwright, 2020). Being healing centered means being focused not only on the impact of trauma on individual people, but also on fostering community well-being, and creating a culture of care and restoration. When using healing centered approaches, a practitioner operates from a holistic view of healing with cultural and spiritual sensitivity, values shared experiences and a sense of belonging, and places a focus on well-being instead of repressing symptoms of trauma, as well as creating a space where people can visualize a better future.
Science Example: During course development, Dr. Austin, a data science professor, was planning to provide examples of visualizations in her lecture for an undergraduate class, such as Florence Nightingale using information from mortality charts of British troops in the Crimean War to creating coxcomb graphs. Originally, Dr. Austin wanted to also show different graphs that were created for the COVID-19 pandemic as a current relevant topic and ask students to use this as the starting point for the final project: a visualization of the infection rates of COVID-19 in a specific location for over a period of four months. However, during a collaborative syllabus review session with her graduate students, Dr. Austin was informed that this focus on COVID-19 might be traumatizing for many of the students no matter the intent. Using resources from Mays Imad and Karen Costa, Dr. Austin redeveloped the lesson to use data from the 2009 Swine Flu epidemic in the US, as well as developing a content warning to inform students who may have been impacted by an epidemic or pandemic and an alternate assignment if they were unable to engage with the topic (Costa, n.d.; Imad, 2021; Stachowiak & Imad, 2020).
[Healing Centered and Trauma-Informed Approaches and Practices]
Definition: The political and social framework that shifts the power structures towards more equitable and compassionate conditions for all humans, especially those who have been disenfranchised from their rights in current systems. Liberation involves the abolition of current systems and structures to create better and more humane world. Hence, liberation tactics diverge from anti-oppressive tactics in that the latter is about working within existing structures to make them more equitable and just but the existing structure remains, whereas the former requires dismantling those structures and reimagining new ones. Many have argued that liberation is not simply a philosophy or a framework but an active practice in and of itself, such as Paulo Freire (1970) in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of [people] upon their world in order to transform it” (p. 79).
Liberation and abolition are often envisioned through the arts, poetry, and theology of various communities. For example, Africanfuturism and Afrofuturism, as literary art forms that synthesize the past and present, imagine a future where descendants of the Black Diaspora are free from the oppressive systems and structures that keep them from reaching their full potential and dreams. Similarly, Latin American Liberation Theology worked to push the Catholic Church toward a more progressive platform for workers and the poor during Vatican II (Singer, n.d.).
Science Example: While pre-tenure, ecology Professor Annalise Page conducted many research projects in the community surrounding her campus. Each time she attempted to include members of the community as partners in her research, the University refused to allow these community partnerships as they did not see the time and effort the community wanted to spend on reclamation and remediation as aligned with the University’s goal for pre-tenure faculty of producing scholarly outputs. Professor Page believed this approach of viewing the community as subjects for scholarly study instead of partners to work alongside to be inequitable and racist, especially given the predominantly white population of the University and the predominantly BIPOC population of the local community. However, she hoped that once her tenure was secured that she would finally be able to engage in meaningful community partnerships. Then, during the planning for her first post-tenure research project studying the long term effects the many dilapidated mid-century manufacturing plants less than a mile from campus had on soil, the University raised yet other objections to community partnerships. Annalise decided right then and there that she had to leave the academy to liberate her work. She deepened her relationships with the community members and partnered with them to create a series of local projects on ecological topics where the needs and interests of the community were front and center.
Definition: A political and economic policy model that aims to transfer economic control to the private sector and away from the public sector, prioritizes free market capitalism and corporate freedom as the solution to all social problems, and aims to limit government spending, regulation, and oversight as well as public ownership. The governments of Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States during the 1980s as well as contemporary austerity movements and attempts to dismantle the social safety net are examples of neoliberal ideology in action. Since then, neoliberalism in practice in the United States has led to large scale governmental deregulation of many sectors like banking and the environment, defunding of public education, and the privatization of many areas such as: health care, transportation, the carceral system, and even national defense. Neoliberalism manifests in higher education through the chronic defunding of public colleges and universities through reduced state and federal budget lines as well as an emphasis on developing private and corporate funders, the financial reliance on self-support and entrepreneurial programs, administrators acting as “CEOs,” and treating students as customers and the degree as the product.
Science Example: In the early 1980s, researchers at Harvard University announced the invention of the OncoMouse, the first ever transgenic mouse which was designed to have a gene that made it more susceptible to develop cancer. These groundbreaking mice had the chance to dramatically accelerate cancer research, until 1988 when Harvard received the first ever patent on a mammal. There were two big changes that led to this happening. First was a 1987 deregulatory change in US Patent Office policy that allowed patenting higher life forms. Second was the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act that changed the rules for federally funded research so that universities were uniformly permitted to retain patent and commercialization rights for research products that were funded with federal dollars, instead of the previous standard where many patents were held by the federal government for the public good unless a waiver was granted. This patent may not have been a large issue if not for two things: one, the patent was much broader than just mice modified with the specific OncoMouse transgenic method, instead it covered all mice modified transgenically for cancer research, and two, Harvard had received private money to further fund the OncoMouse work from the DuPont corporation, who in exchange for their money received the sole right for commercialization of the research. This meant that labs that had been raising OncoMice now had to pay $50 per mouse to DuPont and that any other lab that had or were developing their own transgenic mice for cancer research were targets of DuPont’s legal team. Many scientists did not stop raising OncoMice or developing their own transgenic mice, even though this did mean they were in violation of US patent law and could be liable for hefty fines. This fight started to calm down in 1998 when the U.S. National Institute of Health managed to negotiate an agreement with DuPont such that researchers with federal funding could use OncoMice. While Harvard’s patent then expired in 2005, by which time new technology had bypassed transgenic mice, the amount of research lost by the lack of ability to experiment freely with transgenic mice without risk of legal action for at least a decade cannot be calculated (Pedrick & Drago, n.d.).
Definition: A social construct is a cultural or group concept that is created, established, and accepted as true without requiring a grounding in fact or empirical observations. Social constructs persist only through overwhelming mutual agreement by members of the society in which they exist. Examples include race, gender, money, national borders, and language. As beliefs within a society change, so do its social constructs, such as the evolution of the understanding of gender in the United States over the last few decades from a binary construction to a spectrum that includes transgender, fluid, non-conforming, and agender people.
Furthermore, social constructs as collective assumptions are usually unspoken and viewed as “common sense.” Their development is theorized in the social sciences through social constructionism. Social constructionism disputes the idea that concepts such as gender, race, and disability are biologically determined, instead positing that cultures develop these categories in order to make sense of the world. It also asserts that social categories are inherently political in nature, rather than objective observations of intrinsic truth.
Science Example: In most science textbooks up to undergraduate level in the United States, it is taken for granted that the path to scientific truth is via what is known as “The Scientific Method.” This ignores and attempts to invalidate the many different ways in which science is conducted by many non-European cultures, not to mention how science was done in the millennia before the scientific method was formalized in Europe in the 1800s.
Definition: Educators have developed many pedagogical approaches that incorporate a social justice lens or ethos, through the use of student-centered approaches such as inclusive pedagogy, culturally-relevant pedagogy, trauma-informed pedagogy, and asset-based pedagogy and the use of critical theory such as critical pedagogy, queer pedagogy, and feminist pedagogy. These pedagogies are meant to acknowledge and/or resist the oppressive nature of traditional educational systems and provide learners with the tools to critically examine and contextualize their learning. Most of these pedagogies also emphasize the learner’s agency, thoughtfulness, and ability to contextualize information in time and place, using methods such as active learning or syllabus co-construction, and insist on student-centered and, in some cases, student-led curricula. Educators must be prepared to encounter student resistance to new ways of teaching and learning as well as widespread push-back against perceived threats to the educational status quo from those with a vested interest in maintaining it, such as administrators, alumni, parents, other instructors, etc.
Science Example: A group of young graduate assistants (GAs) want to incorporate feminist and social justice pedagogical practices in their introductory chemistry class based on the work of Lasker and Simcox (2020). The GAs empower everyone to participate fully, especially women students and students who are historically untapped in their field. They speak about the obstacles that women students can encounter in their future careers and encourage them to build a support system now by joining groups on campus. The GAs also teach the students to think critically and socially by asking them to bring in an article about environmental justice and write a reflection on how it applies to the day’s class experiment, considering the ecological and human effects of manufacturing.
[Social Justice Pedagogies]
Definition: When a service, a space (physical or virtual), an educational experience, a tool, etc. is designed to be accessible to all from the start and thus limiting the need for future adaptation. The process of universal design aims to be preemptively inclusive rather than providing reactive, minimally responsive accommodations and to decenter “normal” in the design process. Universal design goes beyond simply considering physical disabilities, it also incorporates cultural diversity, neurodiversity, learning styles, and many other things.
Science Example: Chemistry professors, Daniel K. Miller and Patricia L. Lang (2016), at Ball State University in Indiana wrote about how they used universal design principles, specifically those related to Universal Design for Learning (UDL), to reduce stress for science students and increase their opportunities to learn and be successful in chemistry classes. The professors revised their course by adapting their laboratory curriculum to incorporate open-mindedness, supportive communication, and the results of their curriculum UDL analysis with all students in mind. The latter of these means considering accessibility to laboratory space and tools, a variety of delivery methods of learning content, and multiple assessment pathways.
A system based in the ideology of whiteness and the belief that white people are superior to all other ethnicities/races of people, especially Black and Indigenous people. This system defaults to, privileges, weaponizes, and perpetuates “whiteness” and its ways of being as the standard by which all others are measured and compared. Through the use of power, religion, cultural media, finance, and institutions such as the state (colonial and imperial), white supremacy has been used by white people, primarily of European extraction, to exploit, oppress, and dominate the continents and nations of all people they do not classify as “belonging to the white race.” The system of white supremacy continuously functions in all aspects of the societies it infects, whether or not white people are present. Likewise, a conscious rejection of the white supremacist ideology on the part of individuals does not mean one can exist outside of, or without complicity in, its effects, and therefore, individuals themselves cannot be neutral.
The lack of reckoning with the white supremacy inherent in the founding history of the United States, explicitly slavery, colonial Indigenous genocide, and participation in global ethnic cleansing movements and antisemitism, has reified white supremacy in the country’s culture. This white supremacy culture is often invisibilized as it operates by making “normal” the ways in which people from white cultures behave, know, and think. This means that BIPOC cultural traditions, behaviors, and ways of knowing are perceived as “other” unless, or until, white people appropriate them at which point they become mainstream and, therefore, associated with whiteness. Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones (dRworks, 2021) identified 14 characteristics of white supremacy culture, such as worship of the written word, individualism, and the binary.
Science Example 1: Authors (Alang et al., 2021) of “White supremacy and the core functions of public health” in the American Journal of Public Health, discuss how the lack of acknowledgement of white supremacy in public health has perpetuated both systemic and systematic racism in the care of black patients and the development of practitioners. In the recently revised Essential Public Health Services (EPHS) framework, racism is an oppression that should be addressed, which in turn means that equitable policies, assessments, and assurances need to be addressed also to dismantle white supremacy and the centering of whiteness in health systems.
Science Example 2: A study into over one million scientific dissertations written in the United States from 1977-2015 showed a higher rate of innovation and production of novel results by Black, Indigenous, and Latine PhD students. The study also found that this more highly innovative and novel work was discounted when it came to academic position hiring and careers. In particular, these systemic biases mean Black, Indigenous, and Latine PhD students must produce much more innovative research than white scientists to have equivalent scientific careers (Hofstra et al., 2020).