Amy Krings’ project investigates the effects of social justice education on political transformation and empowerment.  Social justice education aims to transform individual participants and society by engaging students in critical thinking and consciousness-raising: two theorized preconditions for social change.  The idea is that by the end of a social justice course, participants should begin to interpret their social contexts differently and to identify new alternatives and possibilities that they might not have previously recognized.  This “awakening” and personal transformation motivates participants to engage in socially responsible political participation, civic engagement, and multicultural activism.  This theory of change, while plausible, begs an empirical question: Does social justice education lead to an increase in political participation, civic engagement, and multicultural activism and, if so, do different pedagogies result in different impacts?

Amy became interested in investigating this question for a number of reasons.  The United States – and the world – is becoming increasingly multicultural and complex.  Therefore, universities must take seriously their roles in helping young adults to develop the knowledge, values, and skills necessary for living and working in a democratic world with people who represent different social identities (including racial, ethnic, gender, and religious identities) from their own.  The Michigan Multicultural Education and Civic Engagement Study is in the process of assessing short and long-term impacts of social justice courses (service learning, intergroup dialogues, and lecture) through a repeated measures quasi-experimental study, which uses the same subjects with every condition of the research, including the control. Comparing student outcomes from these courses can build our knowledge of how action and reflection can contribute to social justice learning and changed behaviors.  

These findings are particularly salient for two reasons.  First, during tough economic times, college and university administrators are looking to cut expenses.   If social justice courses are to remain, educators must be able to demonstrate tangible outcomes, particularly because they often demand additional resources such as facilitators and/or transportation to service sites.  Second, the outcomes that social justice courses aim to influence – including political participation, civic engagement, and multicultural education - are of growing importance because our democratic society is becoming increasingly interconnected and diverse.  

According to Amy, “Without effective interventions, ‘immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital’ (as Putnam famously says) in the short term.  If social justice pedagogies are not able to prepare students to live and work in a multicultural world, then they need to be refined, and if they are successful, then they should be expanded beyond the collegiate environment.” 

The Centennial award allows Amy to write up her findings for publication, in collaboration with Lorraine Gutierrez (Professor of Social Work).  

In her free time, Amy enjoys walking her dog, scooter riding, and eating delicious food.