Date of this Version
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 19:1 (Spring/Summer 2018), pp 15-23.
In “Thinking Critically, Acting Justly,” Naomi Yavneh Klos suggests that the key questions for honors education and social justice are first “how to engage our highest-ability and most motivated students in questions of justice” and second “how honors can be a place of access, equity, and excellence in higher education.” These goals are both important and complementary; achieving the latter helps achieve the former. Honors education creates a fruitful space for inclusion where the knowledge and experience of diverse students develop skills oriented toward justice for the whole community. Making honors a place of access and equity prompts deeper engagement in questions of justice for all. Particularly in its emphasis on interdisciplinary and experiential learning, honors education creates, as Yavneh Klos writes, opportunities to “develop an understanding of the world in its complexities [and to] listen and engage [across difference].” Honors also prompts students to learn from the intersections of experience, recognize assumptions based in privilege, and challenge the notion that justice is about helping distant others. Through these practices, honors education is particularly well-positioned to cultivate empathy, a necessary foundation of social justice education. We base our conclusions about building empathy in honors education on our experience team-teaching an experiential, interdisciplinary course focused on mass incarceration in the University of New Mexico Honors College. Titled “Locked Up: Incarceration in Question,” the two-semester course integrated methodologies and approaches from sociology and art, fostering interdisciplinary inquiry into the historic roots and contemporary practices of incarceration. The aim of the class was to cultivate empathetic and engaged citizens, both caring about the world around them and prepared to create change in their communities. During the fall semester, students examined mass incarceration as a civil rights issue and explored how art allows us to both construct meaning and communicate knowledge about injustice. This class prepared students for service learning projects during the spring semester, when student groups worked with community partners to provide requested services. During the activities of both semesters, students came to destabilize the false dichotomy between themselves—often relatively privileged students in their state’s flagship university—and individuals directly impacted by the injustices of the carceral apparatus. Students found such complexities also mirrored in their own lives.