Elmhurst U., District 88 Partner on Social Justice Course

February 2, 2022 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

A photo of snow-covered tree branches in the foreground, with the front and bell tower of the Old Main building in the background on the campus of Elmhurst University.Elmhurst University and DuPage High School District 88 have teamed up to offer a college-level course on social justice topics to students from the district’s two high schools.                                                    

Fifty-five students from Addison Trail High School, in Addison, and Willowbrook High School, in Villa Park, are enrolled in Explorations in Social Justice. The multidisciplinary course introduces students to contemporary equity and social justice issues by having them explore social movements and current events related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and class; and discuss how those concepts influence relationships and understanding in the world today.

“One of our top priorities at District 88 is to create and sustain an inclusive environment through ongoing equity work,” said Jean Barbanente, superintendent of DuPage High School District 88. “We know equity is a journey, and we continue to look for ways to enhance this critical initiative and remove barriers to help all students achieve their goals. Our new course with Elmhurst University is a tremendous example.”

The topics in the yearlong course are viewed through a national lens, but during the Spring Term a special emphasis is being placed on equity and social justice issues that affect the Chicago metropolitan area. A highlight of the course will be field trips to the Bronzeville Historical Society and post-visit discussions with the museum’s director.

The students work in person every day with their high school teachers, and then twice a week they meet remotely from their classrooms with different Elmhurst University faculty members. Each of the nine faculty members presents a subject in their area of expertise—topics include immigration, residential segregation, criminal justice, health care, education, social media and environmental racism.

As the “anchor” faculty for the course, Professor of Political Science Constance Mixon and Associate Professor of History Karen Benjamin coordinate with the high school faculty, teach several of the classes and attend all the class meetings.

They’re big fans of the course’s multidisciplinary approach. “It gives students an opportunity to look at this huge concept of social justice from all of these different angles, to find where their own specific passion or interest lies,” Benjamin said. “So no matter what the next step is for them, they have a lot of different ways to think about things.”

Benjamin and Mixon also have been impressed by their students’ enthusiasm, despite the challenges the material inherently poses. “These students are so passionate about these issues, and they’re hungry to learn what they can do to make a difference,” Mixon said. “Still, these are hard topics and they can be really depressing because we’re talking about issues of justice, and we know we don’t always get justice. You may gain a little bit but then go backward—that can be hard for young people to wrap heads around without getting discouraged.”

The course also gives students a sense of all the different majors available to them at Elmhurst University or somewhere else, Benjamin said. “It allows them to blend this idea of care and concern for the world with ‘What am I going to do after I graduate from high school?’”

Explorations in Social Justice is the latest of several Elmhurst University courses that are available to District 88 students. Others include College Algebra, Calculus III and English 105. All offer high school students the opportunity to experience the rigor of higher education and earn college-level credit while also connecting with Elmhurst University.

“We know our students continue to succeed inside the classroom and beyond because of these collaborations, and we truly value and appreciate our strong partnership with Elmhurst University,” Barbanente said.

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