UT Launches Center for the Study of Social Justice

KNOXVILLE — With the goal of shedding light on society’s most pressing social issues, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has formed the Center for the Study of Social Justice.

logoBased in UT’s Department of Sociology, the center provides a framework for scholars of sociology, psychology, education, social work, law, geography, political science and philosophy, among others, to collaborate on research and share insights about the conflicts, complexities and contradictions related to social justice.

The center aims to produce science-based solutions for everyday problems, explains Stephanie Bohon, associate professor of sociology. Bohon and Scott Frey, sociology department head, co-direct the new center.

“What are the facts about health care disparities? What are the facts about immigration and the many other issues facing our nation and the world?” Bohon said. “Our role is to provide the results of unbiased research and analyses to the people who make the policy decisions and create the programs to address the many needs of our society.”

The need for interdisciplinary social science research is growing, and support from private and public sectors is following suit.

“The world is changing and evolving at such a rapid pace, and our society’s problems become increasingly complex. We must inquire from an academic perspective about the state of humanity, as it relates to inequalities and the societal changes affecting all aspects of social, political, cultural and political life in our world,” Frey said.

The center is housed within the College of Arts and Sciences but represents 60 faculty fellows from 14 academic programs. The center enhances the university’s ability to compete for social science research funding by providing an interdisciplinary, organized research unit.

“We are very pleased that the Center for the Study of Social Justice has been established and is centered in the College of Arts and Sciences,” said Bruce Bursten, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The center promises to be an intellectual and translational force in taking basic research in social justice and using it to make a difference in society. The multidisciplinary nature of the center will mirror the college’s goal of fostering critical thinking across disciplines to advance human knowledge and to make a difference in the human condition.”

As the nation experiences economic crisis, its impact on society and its ability to fulfill basic needs will only grow.

“Research informs us that in the tough economic times we’re experiencing, all social problems that exist will only worsen,” Bohon explained. “We can play a large role in collecting and analyzing data, and in providing science-based methods of evaluating resources and the effectiveness of specific approaches or proposed solutions.

“Through the center, the university can contribute to the body of knowledge that measures these impacts. Research is no longer from one discipline, and social justice issues require an increasingly complex and interdisciplinary approach to effectively weigh in on solutions to the persistent social problems that keep having detrimental effects on individuals and members of social groups,” said Bohon.

Faculty fellows of the center currently are involved in research relating to such urgent issues as immigration and criminal justice, environmental degradation and the fly ash release involving the Tennessee Valley Authority in Kingston, Tenn.

“This new center facilitates the sharing of resources among a unique group of scholars and also provides the university with a framework to attract support for new interdisciplinary projects that will ultimately benefit humankind,” said Brad Fenwick, vice chancellor for research.

While the center’s research and public policy work will engage primarily faculty and graduate students, undergraduate students and all members of the campus community will benefit from the center’s presence.

“We have the opportunity to engage our campus in many conversations through lectures, workshops, films and a variety of other ways to explore emerging issues that are of great concern to many people,” said Bohon.

The center will hold its inaugural event on Nov. 10, featuring Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends and the author of 17 best-selling books on the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society and the environment. The public lecture is set for 7 p.m. in the ballroom of the University Center and is free and open to the public.

For more information about center events or lectures, visit http://cssj.utk.edu.

Editors’ note: Please see accompanying release – Jeremy Rifkin to Speak about Rebuilding World Economy at UT Center’s Opening.

C O N T A C T :

Stephanie Bohon, (865-974-7019, sbohon@utk.edu)

Kristi Hintz, (865-974-3993, khintz@utk.edu)

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