On a Capitol Hill campus, a training ground for social justice

Vero Berrera-Kolb at work

Students at Seattle Central College got what they’ve been asking for this school year when the campus inaugurated a degree emphasis in Equity and Social Justice (ESJ).

“Students wanted to get credit for emphasizing on these issues,” said faculty member Vero Barrera-Kolb, who helped create the program. According to the SCC, achieving the emphasis will give students a demonstrated interest in subjects surrounding “human diversity, including race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, and more – with a focus on social justice and change.”

Clarissa Lunday, who was enrolled in LGBTQ studies class taught by Barrera-Kolb, was eager to be part of the new program. “One of my biggest goals is to become a lobbyist for women’s and sexual orientation rights and this emphasis will help with that,” she said.College President Sheila Edwards Lange, Ph.D., who was Chief Diversity officer at University of Washington until 2015, announced the program earlier this year. “The emphasis is one more way to broaden the path for students to transfer to a university that have a similar thrust,” she said.

The ESJ bolster was developed by a committee of faculty members who are required to serve the college as part of their tenured duties. Faculty member and ESJ committee chair, Kayleen Oka now manages the program for a stipend in addition to her salary.

To receive the emphasis, students must complete five of 26 applicable courses within the larger catalogue of general education subjects. Seattle Central is the first two-year college in Seattle to offer an emphasis, but Barrera-Kolb hopes that with time other colleges will offer their own specialized programs. ESJ can be applied to any one of the colleges 30 associate degree offers.

Last year 1,015 students obtained an associate degree from SCC but while this year shows improvement “enrollment has been down since 2010,” said Edwards Lange.

The ESJ qualified courses were selected by a committee of SCC faculty across three departments. “We gathered over the course of two years and went through the school’s entire curriculum,” Barrera-Kolb said. The selected classes were chosen to intersect with four major learning outcomes: ability to critically analyze power dynamics, tools for communication and community building, identifying historic and contemporary issues of human diversity, and use of strategies to employ transformation and social justice.

Once a student has completed qualifying coursework, the emphasis automatically appears on their transcript as an annotation to their education profile.

According faculty and ESJ committee member Helena Ribeiro, students travel from all over the city to attend SCC, specifically for the college’s socially aware environment. “This our way of legitimizing it,” Says Ribeiro, a SCC graduate who became a tenured professor in the spring of 2017. “We wanted to honor the reasons our students come here in the first place which is in part Seattle Central’s reputation history and tradition of being oriented toward social justice and social movements.”

“The next step is to look at the way it’s structured what we already have and what we can create to supplement the current suite of courses,” says Edwards Lange “The program has already gotten a lot of interest and response so I don’t see it going away anytime soon.”


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3 thoughts on “On a Capitol Hill campus, a training ground for social justice

  1. Well there’s degree that’s even more useless than Seattle Central COMMUNITY College’s Pastry Arts degree.

    Good luck kids, your degree in victimization will open the doors to some fine evening shifts at Starbucks. Make that a double shot.

    • Oh nonsense….they have a stellar career ahead of them working for their cracker-jack Seattle DIstrict 3 City Councilperson.

      …….Well, for a year or two, anyway.

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