In my time at Fairfield University there is almost nothing I have heard students complain about more than the Magis Core Signature Elements, specifically the social justice requirements. I can’t claim any kind moral superiority here; I’ve bashed the elements just as much as the next person. But I think the complaints many of us are making are missing the real point. The problem with the Magis Core signature elements is not simply that they exist, but rather that they are so inconsistently available to students. 

The elements are an asset to students. We should all have a strong understanding of social justice topics at a liberal arts university. We should all be able to foster healthy discussion about issues of race, class, gender, and other metrics of systemic inequality within our society. These are essential skills not just for future employment, but for life in general. 

The problem here is the challenge of access. In the Fall 2022 semester, there are exactly 14 courses running that have a Social Justice 2 signature element. Out of these classes two are honors seminars, which exclude the majority of the student body. Two more are restricted only to nursing majors. Four are 3000 level or above. Not to mention the fact that as I am writing this nearly all of them are full. I’m a triple major (two of which have interdisciplinary courses of study) with two minors, and there is not a single course with an SJ2 attribute running in the fall connected to any of them. These signature elements can’t benefit students if we can’t take them. There need to be more courses available that can satisfy the requirements for them to be meaningful. 

Almost everyone I know who has complained about the elements says that in order to fulfill a core requirement they had to take a course completely unrelated to any aspect of their degree. This should not be the case. Every department should have classes available that satisfy social justice elements, so that students can understand social justice challenges in the context of their field. I’m a politics major, and I need to understand the implications of social justice in political interest groups and public policy. A finance major needs to understand systemic inequalities in Wall Street employment and access to capital, which is not necessarily the primary concern of a history major. Nursing majors need way more knowledge about systemic inequality in the healthcare system than a marketing major. We deserve conversations about social justice that meet us where we are, and support our career goals. 

This can mean creating new class classes, but it doesn’t have to; there are so many existing courses that deserve attributes but do not have them. If we really want to address the themes these elements are supposed to prompt us to discuss we need to recognize spaces where these conversations are already happening. My Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Capstone course was the first place in my time at Fairfield that has properly discussed issues facing the indigeous community. We say the word “intersectionality” once every ten minutes. 

But somehow, this course doesn’t satisfy an SJR or SJ2 attribute. A course running in the fall titled Feminism In The United States has no social justice attributes, despite literally having a social justice movement in the title. Every humanities course I’ve ever taken at this school required more writing than the economics course I took for an MWAC. Fairfield students are already doing the work to acquire these skills, it’s simply not being recognized. 

Finally, we need to address the issue of inconsistency. It’s wildly ridiculous that when it comes to courses that have multiple sections it’s possible for only one of the many sections to have an attribute. The fact that we all have to take an Intro To Philosophy course to graduate, but there’s always one random section with an SJ2 element is frankly unfair… especially given that this is the most elusive of all the social justice elements. Every professor is going to bring their own perspectives to the courses they teach, but a course with the same title running at the same time should not be that different. If one section of a course is approved for an element it should automatically be applied to all sections of that course. 

We all love to demonize the Magis Core signature elements. But the problem here is not that we have these elements, but that the lack of access and inconsistency have clouded our ability to realize their goals.

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