2023 Best Colleges for Social Justice Activism
In today's world, the role of advocates and social justice activists has become increasingly vital in shaping a just and equitable society. Aspiring change-makers (like you) often seek academic institutions that not only provide quality education but also foster a culture of activism and civic engagement.
In this article, we discuss what makes a college good for social justice activism. And then, we share a list of the best colleges for students who wish to be change-makers.
What makes a college good for social activism?
Social activism involves advocating for change and addressing societal issues, so a college's environment, resources, and opportunities can greatly influence its effectiveness in fostering and supporting this kind of engagement. Here are some of the key elements that contribute to a college being considered good for social activism.
Diversity and Inclusion: A college that values diversity and inclusion is more likely to provide an inclusive environment for social activists. A diverse student body brings different perspectives and experiences, fostering a more robust social activist community.
Strong Social Justice Programs: Look for colleges that offer academic programs, majors, or minors focused on social justice, human rights, or related fields. These programs can provide students with the knowledge and tools needed to engage effectively in social activism.
Active Student Organizations: The presence of student groups and organizations dedicated to social and political causes is a clear sign of a college's commitment to activism. These groups often organize events, protests, and awareness campaigns.
Community Engagement: Colleges that encourage students to engage with local communities and participate in service projects or internships related to social issues provide valuable practical experience for budding activists.
Supportive Faculty: Faculty members who are engaged in activism themselves or are supportive of student initiatives can be instrumental in guiding and mentoring aspiring activists.
Resource Centers: Look for colleges that have dedicated resource centers or offices for diversity, equity, and inclusion, as they often provide resources, workshops, and support for social activists.
Protest Policies: Understanding a college's policies regarding protests and demonstrations is important. Some institutions are more accommodating and supportive of student-led protests and activism than others.
Access to Resources: Access to funding, grants, and resources for activism-related projects can greatly enhance a college's suitability for social activism.
Political Climate: Consider the political climate in the college's surrounding area. Colleges located in regions with a history of activism or progressive politics may provide more opportunities for engagement.
Alumni Success Stories: Research whether the college has a track record of producing alumni who have made significant contributions to social activism or related fields. This can indicate the effectiveness of the institution in nurturing activists.
Networking Opportunities: A college with strong connections to social justice organizations, NGOs, and advocacy groups can provide students with valuable networking opportunities in the activism sphere.
Safe and Inclusive Campus: Ensuring that the campus is safe and inclusive for all students, regardless of their background or beliefs, is crucial for fostering a healthy and constructive environment for social activism.
Research Opportunities: For students interested in academic research related to social activism, colleges that offer research opportunities in relevant fields can be particularly attractive.
A college that is good for social activism in 2023 should provide a supportive and inclusive environment, offer educational and practical resources, and actively encourage and facilitate student involvement in social and political causes. These elements come together to create an atmosphere where passionate individuals can develop the skills and knowledge needed to make a positive impact on society through activism.
Best colleges for social justice activism
Here's a list of colleges that stand out for their commitment to social justice activism:
Pitzer College (Claremont, CA)
Pitzer College has a long history of showing concern with social and economic inequality. They regularly have activists as keynote speakers, such as transgender activist Janet Mock in 2015 and co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter activist Patrisse Cullors.
On top of hosting a yearly Arts & Activism panel to highlight the many ways to highlight social and political issues, Pitzer College considers Social Responsibility a core tenet of their education. Organizations on campus include: Feminist Coalition (FemCo), A Cleaner Tomorrow (ACT), Smart Sex Society, Pitzer Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, the Animal Rights Club (ACR), and more.
Smith College (Northampton, MA)
Smith College is home to nearly two dozen social justice, community service, and political action groups. Some of these include: ACLU Smith College, Dis/ability Alliance, Engineers without Borders, Global Action Against Poverty (GAAP), Prism: Queer and Trans Students of Color, Social Justice & Equity Representatives, and many more.
Smith College also maintains an Activist-in-Residence position, which has been filled by a variety of leaders, such as Loretta J. Ross and Miriam Yeung. Students can also choose a concentration that connects community work with academic life — the Community Engagement and Social Change (CESC) concentration. The college is also home to a psychology course on Political Activism, which has invited a number of social activists to participate, including Gloria Steinem, Katsi Cook, and more.
James Madison University (Harrisonburg, VA)
James Madison University offers a Justice Studies as an interdisciplinary area of study covering a broad scope, from local to international, and investigates everything from the ideals of full citizenship participation and empowerment to personal ethical inquiry and social agency.
JMU is also home to Diversity Education Empowerment Program (DEEP) Impact, which is designed to influence meaningful change through the JMU campus community. Housed in the Center for Multicultural Student Services, it lives and breathes with other programs, like the Students for Minority Outreach.
Spelman College (Atlanta, GA)
Spelman College, an all-women’s HBCU, is founded on the premise of empowering women and inspiring them to positive social change through service. Home to a Social Justice Fellows Program that was initiated in the Fall of 2011, students participate in social justice advocacy internships, monthly colloquia experiences, book discussions, and social entrepreneurship project design activities.
Spelman College also features a wide variety of advocacy and service organizations, including AUC Speaks. Spelman holds an annual “Denim Day” to increase awarenes and combat sexual violence against women — just one event among many others during National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
George Washington University (Washington, DC)
George Washington University is located in Washington, DC, putting it in the perfect geographical position for social and political activism. GWU has more than 100 advocacy and awareness clubs for students to participate in, as well as a major for those looking for life-long work in it.
The Human Services and Social Justice major that meets at the crossroads of psychology and sociology to prepare students for roles in non-profits and communities in need.
Columbia University (NYC)
Activism runs in the veins of Columbia University. The 1968 protests were about institutional apparatus supporting the Vietnam War, as well as concerns over a segregated gymnasium. Students occupied multiple university buildings and were eventually violently removed by NYU police.
The students continued to protest, resulting in the plans for the segregated gymnasium being abandoned and the institution halting support to an institute related to the US Department of Defense.
Columbia retains that social activist spirit today and is home to more than more political/activist student organizations, and is also home to Peace by PEACE, a group that promotes non-violent conflict resolution alternatives.
Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT)
Wesleyan University is home to a wide variety of social and political activism student organizations. From Journalism of Underrepresented Students to Students for Global Health to Wesleyan Students for Disability Health, there are plenty of causes to advocate for.
Historically, students have protested against police brutality and that’s continued on. This year alone, students have participated in global climate strikes, Wesleyan Engage 2020 (a cohort working for voter registration and issues advocacy groups), and Students March for Science.
For students interested in dedicating their lives to activism, Wesleyan University offers a Philosophy degree with a social justice track.
University of Washington (Seattle, WA)
On top of a long history of activism at the University of Washington, there are a wide variety of student organizations focused on advocacy and activism, including groups such as Huskers for Opportunities in Prison Education and Climate Justice Forum. In 2015, students protested the alleged sexual assaults, racism, and verbal harassment by members of fraternities.
Students can also study Law, Societies, and Justice as either a major or a minor. Students are also encouraged to study abroad in this major and have a number of options tailored to further explore their interests.
University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)
University of California Berkeley is known for its advocacy and social activism. The Free Speech Movement catalyzed the 1960s protests, which also included protests against the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement. This is just a small part of the activism history at UC-Berkeley.
Today, students focus much of their activism efforts on sustainability, immigration, and incarceration. In 2015, they created the Urban Displacement Project to fight against gentrification and, as recently as 2018, protested the apartheid in South Africa.
Brandeis University (Waltham, MA)
Brandeis University, located in Waltham, MA, is home to more than two dozen clubs centered around politics and activism, with even more focused on serving the community. Ranging from the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee to the Brandeis Veg Club to Young Americans for Liberty, there are a number of causes and missions to support.
Students can also minor in Social Justice and Social Policy, but can also get involved before their freshman year through Precollege Programs, such as the Race, Inequality, and Social Justice program and the Queer Academics Activism program.
Brandeis is also home to the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and has been known for its activism for Jewish rights.
Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH)
Oberlin College's students are sincere about their social activism -- they went so far as to propose a grade change system to accommodate for missed class hours due to activism taking up too much of their time. While the proposal was ultimately denied, that hasn't stopped them from continuing to push for it.
Oberlin College has been ahead of the social activism game since the beginning, especially since they were the first college to admit black students. Since then, students have protested against cultural appropriation, worked hard to remove micro-aggressions from classes, and urgently tried to bridge the gap between privileged and marginalized students.
Colleges also known for advocacy and social activism:
Bennington College (Bennington, VT)
Mills College (Oakland, CA)
University of Missouri (Columbia, MO)
American University (Washington, DC)
Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY)
Macalester College (Saint Paul, MN)
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