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Posted: Monday, September 26, 2011 1:00 am

The mission statement encourages it, service organizations strive to achieve it and the Center for Service and Action was founded to promote it.

Social justice is a common phrase at LMU. Many students and staff alike consider it to be an integral aspect to the community on the bluff, but Sister Judith Royer, C.S.J., saw a need to incorporate social justice ideals into more LMU classrooms. This year, Sr. Royer spearheaded the creation of a new class, Voices of Justice, which integrates service, learning and site-specific education with traditional research and arts training.

The Voices of Justice class is comprised of about 20 students who work closely with the following community organizations: Homeboy Industries, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) and the Bethany Ministries, a program that transitions women out of homeless shelters and into self-sufficient living.

Royer emphasized the student-driven nature of the class, saying, "It's a pilot course that hasn't been taught before. We are really discovering based on the interests that the students identified through a survey. The students themselves indicated their curiosity about organizations like the ones we are working with on this project."

Senior urban studies major Britta Engstrom also focused on the unusual nature of the class.

"I think it's a really unique type of class, an experience that forces you to apply what you're learning to social justice issues - which is always a great thing. It's a great opportunity for students all across campus, from different majors and departments, to collaborate and learn about different ways of learning," Engstrom said.

Royer believes that the wide array of students in the class speaks to the importance of its work, saying, "The experience is consciousness raising. It's getting the stories told that wouldn't necessarily be otherwise, and it's showing people how they can get involved in solving the world's problems. This a cross-listed course within six departments. That means that six different chairs agreed to support this class, and to give credit to their students for taking it."

Students in Voices of Justice can take it as upper division American cultures, English, theatre arts, Catholic studies, communication studies or Honors course.

During the first class meetings, representatives from the different organizations came to LMU to discuss their work with the Voices of Justice students. Through this introduction to each cause, students were able to gain a better understanding of what group they would like to commit themselves to working with for the remainder of the project.

However, more than one student admitted that they couldn't narrow their choice down to just one. Junior psychology major Veronica Coe will be working with both Homeboy Industries and Bethany Ministries as part of the class, and commented on the interesting work that the Voices of Justice students will be doing with participants in the various programs.

"During classes, we have been able to listen to the program coordinators speak, and this weekend we are going to talk to the actual participants in the programs. We will be sharing life experiences through group story circles. Then, each LMU student will be matched up with a specific individual from the organization to have a more personal conversation with. ... We will continue to meet with our partner throughout the semester, so we should be able to get more comfortable and open with each other after each visit," Coe said.

Coe also explained what students will do with these stories as the class progresses, saying, "The students will record their individual's story and then dramatize them in some way. I am turning my stories into plays, making the real stories ready for the stage," she said.

Storytelling is an integral part of the class. Engstrom shared how happy she was to have this tradition included in her college curriculum.

Storytelling has always been important in my family. Through generations, it has been a way of retelling history and sharing parts of yourself with others. In some ways, storytelling is a lost art, and it has not been a skill or method that I have been able to use previously in my studies. Having a class that facilitates storytelling is a great way to inspire students to use it in other classes as well, as a great and more human method of research," said Engstrom.

Royer also offered her feelings about storytelling, saying, "Storytelling is healing. It heals those who tell and those who listen. Storytelling creates community. In most of the problems that the world faces, it is because different people don't know each other. Once we hear each other's stories, we see how we are alike rather than how we are different. I think we understand what's it like to walk in another's shoes when we hear their stories."

Junior political science major Sahar Mansoor has really enjoyed the story circles so far.

"They [the story circles] have been nothing short of mind opening. The stories highlight so many universal principles of humanity and really encourage us to be better people everyday," she recounted.

Senior English major Amanda Zeitler appreciates the way that Voices of Justice gives students who are not already involved with service a way to give back to the community.

"We go to a school that is always talking about social justice, and being ‘a man or woman for others' but I never really found a way to combine the two. I'm not in a service org or anything like that. But this class has shown me how to bridge my passion for playwriting and service work," she said.

The Voices of Justice class was introduced this year with LMU's centennial and the 100th Jubilee of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange in mind, as the class highlights issues that both the University and the religious group have focused on for the last 100 years. Royer's students will present their story dramatizations, also referred to as oral histories, at the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Orange forum at LMU in March and at the 2012 Bellarmine Forum.

Royer hopes that this class demonstrates the type of work the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Orange could do if they were given a permanent institute on campus, a goal they one day wish to achieve.

"If we were able to have an institute, we would explore issues of reconciliation, justice, social action and collaboration. In a sense, we founded this class because it's easier to begin movements with students," Royer said.

According to Mansoor, this class empowers students just as the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Orange hope to do. She contended that the most electrifying element of the class is something that all LMU students can do on their own.

"Put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. We are all vulnerable at the end of the day," she said.

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