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Freshman Inquiry: Race and Social Justice

Most people in the United States value equality of opportunity. In reality, however, our social and economic system perpetuates various inequalities, including inequalities between socially defined racial groups Gunnar Myrdal, an architect of the Swedish social welfare system, wrote in 1955 that this "American Dilemma" would ultimately prevent the United States from building a society that would successfully put its values into action. He warned that if existing racial inequalities were not addressed, it would undermine our sense of shared identity and our moral purpose as a nation.This course will seek to address Myrdal's "American Dilemma" on two levels. First, we will study biology that undermines the concept of race itself; sociology that defines the concept as socially constructed; history that is not acknowledged in standard K-12 texts; and literature that opens a diversity of windows onto the experience of race. This knowledge can help students to move past stereotypes and appreciate the experience of people in other groups more deeply. Second, students will be welcomed into opportunities for personal reflection on their own social position and on the privileges and challenges that come their way simply because of the identities they hold. Thus, through both increased knowledge and personal reflection, students can develop capabilities useful to the work of moving U.S. society past its racial dilemma.

Faculty

Martha Balshem

Grace Dillon, PhD, is an Associate Professor in Native American Studies and University Studies at Portland State University, where she 
teaches Native American cinema, popular culture, and science fiction.   She is Coordinator of the Popular Culture program. She is editor of Hive of Dreams: Contemporary Science Fiction from the Pacific Northwest (Oregon State University Press, 2003).  Her work appears in Foundation, Extrapolation, The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Renaissance Papers, The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, and The Journal of General Education.  Currently she is completing a book on indigenousfuturisms with University of Arizona Press.

Alma M.O. Trinidad, MSW, PhD is a social worker by training, and brings an array of work and scholarship in community organizing, mental health, health, and education among diverse communities.  She earned her PhD in social welfare from the University of Washington, Seattle in 2010 and her MSW from the University of Michigan in 1999 with a concentration in community organization and social policy.  She also earned her BSW from the University of Hawai'i, Manoa.  Alma's research interests involve the examination of positionalities, health/mental health promotion, and community development among Asian Pacific Islander (API) youth and emerging adults.  More specifically, her recent dissertation work examined how community youth participation, critical Indigenous pedagogy of place, and community epistemology serve as venues for empowerment, sociopolitical development, collective consciousness, and promotion of health and wellness.  Other research and teaching interests include community youth organizing and development that promote social justice and address disparities among marginalized communities, and culturally responsible research and evaluation methods.  Alma's current appointment is a shared position with Portland State University's University Studies and the School of Social Work, Child and Family Studies.  Alma is a former Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) fellow, and a former National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Prevention Research Trainee.  In her spare time, Alma enjoys spending quality time with her family, especially her two small children, scrapbooking and crafts, photography, sightseeing, and learning hula (through her daughter's participation in her hula halau) and other Indigenous dance.