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College Preparation Program: IN FOCUS Seminar

Racism, Civil Rights, and the History of Social Justice

This course is designed to help students think in innovative ways about issues of justice, equity, and civil rights. Students will acquire a solid background in the history and significance of social justice movements, as well as develop a framework for pursuing their own interests in social justice campaigns. We will begin by studying the history of U.S.-based movements, focusing especially on the post-1950s era, from the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s through contemporary campaigns such as the prison reform movement and Black Lives Matter. In addition to reading and discussing key texts and documents on the history of prejudice, civil rights, and the American legal system, students will work together to create a "field campaign," becoming familiar with community-based organizing models, change management models, and theories of conflict mediation.

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Class meetings will include large group discussion, small group work, faculty lectures, film clips, mini-writing assignments, and time devoted to researching and developing a field campaign. Over the two-week period, students will develop the skills needed to become social justice leaders in both their college communities and beyond, hone their ability to engage in collaborative projects—an essential component of all college classes and disciplines—and gain expertise in college-level research and writing. All areas of student interest are welcome and might include, for instance, environmental justice and sustainability, economic justice, feminism, LGBTQIA rights, education reform, diversity initiatives in business, anti-hunger campaigns, civil rights, and animal rights.


The course will provide students with:

  • A strong background in the history and aims of social justice movements in the U.S., particularly with respect to race.
  • An appreciation of the ways in which definitions and categorizations of race, prejudice, and the concept of "hate-crimes" have evolved over time.
  • An understanding of the terms professionals use in a variety of fields -- sociology, psychology, law, history, education -- to both interpret and combat prejudice. Students will be equipped to discuss the relationships between, for instance, prejudice and discrimination, desegregation and diversity, and systemic racism and microaggressions.
  • Practical experience in developing social justice platforms and implementing active campaigns.

A Typical Classroom Session:

While this session would be a half day held on the Evanston campus, some days will be full days with field trips offsite or on-campus activities. A detailed daily schedule will be provided before the program begins.


Introductory Lecture and overview of previous day's work (lectures will include film clips, writing prompts, or short in-class activities)


Group discussion of day's topic




Creating a social justice campaign: break out into small groups


Wrap-Up: Theory into Practice

Student Audience:

This seminar will be particularly useful for high school students who are considering undergraduate majors in such fields as history, psychology, sociology, or education. However, anyone interested in social justice activism, political history, public policy, reform movements, leadership models, or the ways in which students can effect change in the world is encouraged to enroll. No previous background in social justice activism, or in the course topics, is required.

Resources and Materials

Readings for the class will incorporate materials from a number of different disciplines, including literature, philosophy, law, and popular culture.