Justice & Multiculturalism in the 21st Century Project

About the Project

The Justice & Multiculturalism in the 21st Century Project engages the campus and local communities in an exploration of the intersections of social justice and criminal justice in an increasingly diverse society — especially on issues of civility and surveillance in public spaces.

Over the past few years, a series of newspaper, magazine, and blog headlines have asked “Is Civility Dead?” or “Is this the End of Civility?” The articles focus on public episodes of rudeness and intolerance that have become a theme of media coverage — sometimes going viral on social media. Do these episodes represent a change in the level of civility in the United States? And where do we draw the line on the issue of civility versus civil liberties?

At the same time, there is the related issue of surveillance in public spaces — both in the “real world” and in cyberspace. Since 9/11, many people have been concerned about the trade-off between security and privacy. Many have accepted the fact that, in public places, they are likely to be under surveillance and that the ability of the state and of private entities to engage in such surveillance will only improve with evolving technology.

But when we ponder this in conjunction with the behaviors that are caught on camera in public places and the increasing ability of humans to forget or ignore the fact that they are being watched, surveillance in public places becomes an issue worth discussing.

Project activities have included a film series presented in collaboration with the New York State Writers Institute, a speaker series and a faculty speakers bureau.


Steering Committee

Contact us at [email protected] with questions or to partner.

Project Director: School of Criminal Justice Professor Frankie Bailey

Committee Members:


All our events are free and open to the public. We don't current have any events upcoming but check back for updates.

In the past, we have hosted film series and lecture series. Previous speaker presentations have included:

  • Fashion, Power, and the Presentation of the Everyday Self: Eduardo Pagán, Bob Stump Endowed Professor of History, The New College at Arizona State University

  • Environmental Reproductive Justice in American Indian Communities: Elizabeth Hoover, Ethnic Studies and American Studies at Brown University

  • Who can spot a liar? Are police officers expert lie catchers?: David Walsh, Professor, School of Law and Criminology, University of Derby (United Kingdom)

  • Labor and the Locavore - The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic: Margaret Gray, Political Science, Adelphi University

  • Children of the Prison Boom - Mass Incarceration and the Future of American Inequality: Christopher Wildeman, Associate Professor of Sociology, Yale University

  • Unintended Consequences? Explaining the Relationship between Paternal Incarceration and Food Insecurity: Kristin Turney, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of California - Irvine

  • Racial Animus and Perceptions of Crime and Justice: Kevin Drakulich, Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Northeastern University

In 2021, we also held a "Multicultural Voices in Crime Fiction: Writers of Color on History, Genre, and Craft" symposium, which featured crime writers of color and academic scholars who study multicultural crime fiction. 

Faculty Speakers Bureau

Invite a faculty expert to speak at your organization or agency meeting, conference or other event.

Visit the School of Criminal Justice's Faculty page to meet our faculty and learn about their research interests.


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Email [email protected] to recommend additional resources.


General Topics

Environmental Justice

Updates on Cases from the Film Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action

Books & Documents

  • Agyeman, Julian. Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice. New York: New York UP, 2005. Print.

  • Burns, Shirley Stewart. Bringing down the Mountains: The Impact of Mountaintop Removal Surface Coal Mining on Southern West Virginia Communities, 1970-2004. Morgantown, W. Va.: West Virginia UP, 2007. Print.

  • Cole, Luke W., and Sheila R. Foster. From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement. New York: New York UP, 2001. Print.

  • Checker, Melissa. Polluted Promises: Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town. New York: New York UP, 2005. Print.

  • Hurley, Andrew. Environmental Inequalities: Class, Race, and Industrial Pollution in Gary, Indiana, 1945-1980. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1995. Print.

  • Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent. Vancouver: Greystone, 2008. Print.

  • Pellow, David N. Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.

  • Stein, Rachel. New Perspectives on Environmental Justice: Gender, Sexuality, and Activism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2004. Print.

Popular Films

  • China Syndrome (1979) – In an accident frighteningly close to reality, a nuclear power plant in California lacks the proper safety precautions when disaster threatens.

  • A Civil Action (1999) – The families of children who died as a result of industrial pollution are represented by a heroic lawyer in a lawsuit against the polluter. The film is based on a true story.

  • Erin Brockovich (2000) – An unemployed single mother fights a power company that poisoned a city's water supply.

Documentary Films

  • Blue Gold: World Water Wars (2008) – This documentary examines the increasing human population and changing environment that ensures proper management of water resources will be a major concern in the 21st century.

  • Tapped (2010) – The bottled water industry is critically examined in this documentary.

  • Burning the Future: Coal in America (2008) – The environmental costs of coal production in the United States are closely examined and criticized.

Journal Articles

  • Downey, Liam & Hawkins, Brian. (2008) Race, Income, and Environmental Inequality in the United States. Sociological Perspectives, 51(4),759-781.

  • Faber, Daniel R. & Krieg, Eric J. (2002) Unequal Exposure to Ecological Hazards: Environmental Injustices in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110 (2), 277-288.

  • Jones, Robert Emmet & Rainey, Shirley A. (2006) Examining Linkages between Race, Environmental Concern, Health, and Justice in a Highly Polluted Community of Color. Journal of Black Studies, 36(4), 473-496.


Death Penalty

Books on Women & the Death Penalty

  • O’Shea, Kathleen A. (1999) Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998. Westport, CT: Praeger.

  • Shipman, Marlin (2002) The Penalty is Death: U.S. Newspaper Coverage of Women’s Executions. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press

  • Streib, Victor L. (2006) The Fairer Death: Executing Women in Ohio. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Documents from the Wanda Jean Allen case

Journal Articles

  • Cooey, Paula M. (2002) Women’s Religious Conversions on Death Row:  Theorizing Religion and State. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 70, No. 4, pp. 699-717.

  • Goodwin, M. “Gender, race, and mental illness: The case of Wanda Jean Allen.” In Critical Race Feminism: A Reader (Chapter Review). Edited by A. K. Wing. 2nd ed. 2228-237. New York: New York University Press, 2003.

Popular Films

  • I Want to Live! (1958) — Susan Haywood’s Oscar-winning performance in fictionalized version of the real-life Barbara Graham case. Harrowing scenes leading up to gas chamber execution.

  • Last Dance (1996) — Sharon Stone plays a woman convicted of double murder in her teens, now facing death as her attorney works to save her with a series of appeals.


Gender, Sexuality & Violence

Journal Articles

  • Benagiano, G., Carrara, S., & Filippi, V. (2010). Social and Ethical Determinants of Human Sexuality: 2. Gender-based Violence. The European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care, 15(4), 220-231.

  • Coxell, Adrian W. & Michael B. King (2010). Male victims of rape and sexual abuse. (2010). Sexual & Relationship Therapy, 25(4), 380-391.

  • DeShong, H. (2011). Gender, Sexuality and Sexual Violence: A Feminist Analysis of Vincentian Women's Experiences in Violent Heterosexual Relationships. Journal of Eastern Caribbean Studies, 36(2), 63-96.

  • Dialmy, A. (2005). Sexuality in Contemporary Arab Society. Social Analysis, 49(2), 16-33.

  • Foubert, J., & Cremedy, B. (2007). Reactions of Men of Color to a Commonly Used Rape Prevention Program: Attitude and Predicted Behavior Changes. Sex Roles, 57(1/2), 137-144.

  • Hayes, S., & Carpenter, B. (2013). Social Moralities and Discursive Constructions of Female Sex Offenders. Sexualities, 16(1/2), 159-179.

  • Higgins, D. (2010). Sexuality, Human Rights and Safety for People with Disabilities: The Challenge of Intersecting Identities. Sexual & Relationship Therapy, 25(3), 245-257. doi:10.1080/14681994.2010.489545

  • Mankayi, N. (2010). Male Soldiers' Constructions of Masculinity, Sexuality and Sexual Violence. Journal of Psychology In Africa, 20(4), 591-599.

  • Russell, B., Ragatz, L., & Kraus, S. (2012). Expert Testimony of the Battered Person Syndrome, Defendant Gender, and Sexual Orientation in a Case of Duress: Evaluating Legal Decisions. Journal of Family Violence, 27(7), 659-670.

  • Seelau, S., & Seelau, E. (2005). Gender-Role Stereotypes and Perceptions of Heterosexual, Gay and Lesbian Domestic Violence. Journal of Family Violence, 20(6), 363-371.

  • Wakelin, A., & Long, K. M. (2003). Effects of Victim Gender and Sexuality on Attributions of Blame to Rape Victims. Sex Roles, 49(9/10), 477-487.


Books, News Articles & Documents


For a comprehensive list, visit Filmography of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity (Adam Jones).

Journal Articles 

The Concept of Genocide: These articles provide a general introduction to scholarly discourse about genocide, including issues related to the definition of genocide (e.g., acts that should be included) and the impact of such violence on a society. These articles should be viewed as a starting point for further exploration of this multi-faceted topic.

  • Baker, B.  (2007). Reconstructing a policing system out of the ashes: Rwanda’s solution. Policing & Society, 17 (4), 344-366.
  • De Vito, D. (2008). Rape as genocide: The group/individual schism. Human Rights Review, 9, 361-378.
  • Madley, B. (2008). California’s Yuki Indians:  Defining genocide in Native American history. Western Historical Quarterly, 39, 303-332.
  • Reyntjens, F. (2006). Post-1994 politics in Rwanda: Problematising ‘liberation’ and ‘democratisation’. Third World Quarterly, 27 (6), 1103-1117.
  • Verdeja, E. (2010). Genocide: Clarifying concepts and causes of cruelty. The Review of Politics, 72, 513-526.
  • Wertheim, S. (2010). A solution from hell: The United States and the rise of humanitarian interventionism, 1991-2003. Journal of Genocide Research, 12 (3-4), 149-172.
  • Wolfe, P. (2006). Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native. Journal of Genocide Research, 8(4), 387-409.

Images of Genocide in Mass Media/Popular Culture: These articles will provide a starting point for discussion about media constructed images of genocide.

  • Chiwengo, N. (2008). When wounds and corpses fail to speak: Narratives of violence and rape in Congo (DRC). Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, 28 (1), 78-92.
  • Fair, J. E. and Parks, L. (2001). Africa on camera: Television news coverage and aerial imaging Rwandan refugees.  Africa Today, 48 (2), 35-57.
  • Harting, H. (2008). Global humanitarianism, race, and the spectacle of the African corpse in current western representations of the Rwandan genocide. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, 28 (1), 61-77. 
  • Harrow, K. W. (2005). “Un train peut en cacher un autre”: Narrating the Rwandan genocide and Hotel Rwanda. Research in African Literatures, 36 (4), 223-232.
  • Khor, L. (2011). Human rights and network power. Human Rights Quarterly, 33 (1), 105-127.
  • Landsberg, A. (1997). America, the Holocaust, and the mass culture of memory: Toward a radical politics of empathy. New German Critique, 1997, 63-86.
  • Miller, N. (2008). Projecting hope and making reel change in Africa. Human Rights Quarterly, 30 (3), 27-838.
  • Rapaport, L. (2003). Holocaust pornography: Profaning the sacred in Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS.  SHOFAR, 22 (1), 53-79.


  • Merari, Ariel (2010). Driven to Death: Psychological and Social Aspects of Suicide Terrorism. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Scheuer, Michael (2004). Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror. Washington, DC: Brassey’s.

  • Stout, M., Huckabey, J. M., & Schindler, J. R. (2008). The Terrorist Perspectives Project: Strategic and Operational Views of Al Qaida and Associated Movements. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.

Journal Articles

  • Bouhana, Noemie & Wilkstrom, Per-Olof H. (2010). Theorizing Terrorism: Terrorism as Moral Action. Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, 2(2), 9-79.
  • Crone, M., & Harrow, M. (2011). Homegrown Terrorism in the West. Terrorism & Political Violence, 23(4), 521-536.
  • Deflem, M. (2004). Introduction: Towards a Criminological Sociology of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism. Sociology of Crime, Law & Deviance, 51-6.

Popular Films

  • Body of Lies (2008) — This drama deals with the hunt for a terrorist in Jordan. The film focuses on the strained international relations involved with fighting terrorism.

  • The Crying Game (1992) — A violent tragedy set in the Troubles of Ireland, the movie deals with the politics of violence in regards to race, gender, nationality, and sexuality.

  • The Sum of All Fears (2002) — After a nuclear bomb is detonated in Baltimore, the world is at the brink of nuclear war due to the manipulations of terrorists who are responsible for the attack.

  • The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) — In the Irish War of Independence, two brothers join the IRA and become involved in terrorist actions against the British Empire shortly before her fall.

  • Zero Dark Thirty (2012) — The critically acclaimed film is a dramatization of the decade long search for Osama bin Laden.


Wrongful Convictions


  • Dwyer, Jim, Peter Neufeld, and Barry Scheck. Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make It Right. New York: New American Library, 2003. Print.

  • Garrett, Brandon. Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2011. Print.

  • Petro, Jim, and Nancy Petro. False Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent. New York, NY: Kaplan Pub., 2010. Print.

  • Warden, Rob, and Steven A. Drizin. True Stories of False Confessions. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2009. Print.

  • Vollen, Lola, and Dave Eggers. Surviving Justice: America's Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated. San Francisco: McSweeney's, 2005. Print.

Journal Articles

  • Cassell, P. G. (1999). The Guilty and the Innocent: An Examination of Alleged Cases of Wrongful Conviction from False Confessions. Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, 22(2), 523.

  • Meyer, J. R., & Reppucci, N. (2007). Police Practices and Perceptions Regarding Juvenile Interrogation and Interrogative Suggestibility. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 25(6), 757-780.

  • Ofshe, R. J., & Leo, R. A. (1997). The Social Psychology of Police Interrogation: The Theory and Classification of True and False Confessions. Studies in Law, Politics & Society, 16 189-251.

  • Perillo, J., & Kassin, S. (2011). Inside Interrogation: The Lie, The Bluff, and False Confessions. Law & Human Behavior (Springer Science & Business Media B.V.), 35(4), 327-337.

Popular Films

  • Conviction (2010) — Based on a true story, the working-class sister of a man convicted of murder becomes a lawyer in order to appeal her brother’s conviction.

  • The Exonerated (2005) — This film, adapted from an award winning play, tells the stories of six people who were wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

  • The Hurricane (1999) — A fictionalized account of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who spent more than two decades in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of murder.

  • Shawshank Redemption (1999) — A modern class film, based on a Stephen King novella, follows the life of a man wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

  • The Wrong Man (1956) — Alfred Hitchcock shot this film in semi-documentary style. The film tells the tale of a musician wrongfully accused of robbery. It is Hitchcock’s only film based entirely on real life events.

Documentary Films

  • After Innocence (2005) — A documentary film about seven men exonerated by DNA evidence and their struggles to return to normal society.

  • The Thin Blue Line (1988) — This documentary helped to overturn the conviction of a man wrongly convicted for the murder of a police officer.

  • Witch Hunt (2008) — Lives are destroyed when a dozen people are wrongfully convicted of child molestation in a California community during the early 1980s.


Book Discussions

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck’s novel about a sharecropper family fleeing “the Dust Bowl” of Oklahoma for California was published in April 1939.

That same year jazz singer Billie Holliday performed “Strange Fruit” — a song about lynching — at Café Society in Greenwich Village.

On Easter Sunday morning, contralto Marian Anderson performed before a crowd of more than 75,000 at Lincoln Memorial after being denied permission to sing at Constitution Hall before an integrated audience by the Daughters of the America (DAR). 

That summer of 1939, the New York World’s Fair opened, with the theme “Building the World of Tomorrow.”

In December 1939, Atlanta hosted a grand four-day premiere of Gone with the Wind. The film would be one of the ten movies nominated for an Academy Award in what has been called “Hollywood’s Greatest Year.”

The Grapes of Wrath, an acclaimed and controversial novel, had its movie premiere the next year. By then, Europe was at war, and the war-time economy of the United States was about to boom. But memories of the hardships of the 1930s would define a generation.



Articles & Books

  • Crouse, J. M. (1986). The homeless transient in the Great Depression: New York State, 1929-1941. Albany: State University Press of New York.

  • Dickstein, M. (2004). Steinbeck and the Great Depression. The South Atlantic Quarterly, 103: 111-131.

  • Lingo, M. (2003). Forbidden fruit: The banning of The Grapes of Wrath in the Kern County Free Library. Libraries & Culture, 38 (4): 351-377.

  • MacKaye, M. (1948, April 24). The shame of Oklahoma. Saturday Evening Post, 220(43)

  • Neilson, J. & Meyerson, G. (2008). Hookwormridden heirs or good stock?: Confronting social crisis in Light in August. Mississippi Quarterly, 61(3): 435-460.

  • Shockley, M. S. (1944). The reception of The Grapes of Wrath in Oklahoma. American Literature, 15(4):351-361.

  • Teisch, J. B. (1998). From the Dust Bowl to California: The beautiful fraud. Midwest Quarterly, 39: 153-72.

The New Jim Crow

In The New Jim Crow (2010, rev. ed. 2012), law professor Michelle Alexander argues that mass incarceration “functions as a contemporary system of racial control” (back cover blurb).

We have provide the reader with supplementary material, including links to material that will provide additional historical context. In addition, the reader will find resources on racial stereotypes and the portrayal of the “drug wars” in popular films.

Professor Alexander notes in the introduction to her book (2012) that she focuses on African American males. She encourages discussion and research by others on incarceration of women, Latinos and immigrants. We provide some sources for those who care to do additional reading about these groups.

Web Resources


Social & Historical Context

  • Butler, Paul (2010) One Hundred Years of Race and Crime. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 100, No. 3, pp. 1043-1060.

  • Glover, Karen S. (2009) Racial Profiling: Research, Racism, and Resistance. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

  • Hicks, Cheryl D. (2010) Talk with You like A Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935. Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press.

  • Jacobs, Ronald N. (2000) Race, Media and the Crisis of Civil Society: From Watts to Rodney King. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Mancini, Matthew J. (1996) One Dies, Get Another: Convict Leasing in the American South, 1866-1928. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

  • Mirande, Alfredo (1987) Gringo Justice. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

  • Oshinsky, David M. (1996) “Worse than Slavery”: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice. New York: Free Press.

  • Poyntz, Stuart (1997) Homey, I Shot the Kids: Hollywood and the War on Drugs. Emergency Librarian, Vol. 25, Issue 2, p.8+

  • Roberts, Dorothy (1997) Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. New York: Vintage Books.

  • Smith, Mark M. (2006) How Race is Made: Slavery, Segregation, and the Senses. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

  • Wallace, Michele F. (2003) The Good Lynching and The Birth of a Nation: Discourses and Aesthetics of Jim Crow. Cinema Journal, Vol. 43, No. 1, pp. 85-104.

The War on Drugs & Mass Incarceration

  • Bush-Baskette, Stephanie R. (2000) The War on Drugs and the Black Female: Testing the Impact of the Sentencing Policies for Clack Cocaine on Black Females in the Federal System. Dissertation, Rutgers University, Newark, 216 pp.

  • Cose, Ellis (2/8/2010) A New Jim Crow? Newsweek, Vol. 155, Issue 6.

  • Forman, James, Jr. (2012) Racial Critique of Mass Incarceration: Beyond The New Jim Crow. New York University Law Review 87 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 21.

  • Glasser, Ira (2000) American Drug Laws: The New Jim Crow. Albany Law Review, Vol. 63, Issue 3, p. 703, 22 pp.

  • Henderson, Katie (2011) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color-Blindness. Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice, Vol. 26, Issue 2, pp. 396-401.

  • Jordan-Zachery, Julia S. (2008) A Declaration of War: An Analysis of How the Invisibility of Black Women Makes Targets of the War on Drugs. Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, Vol. 29, Issue 2, pp. 231-259.

  • Rafay, Atif (2012) Bleak Housing and Black Americans: Some Problems in the Use of Racial Disparities in Incarceration as a Reason for Reform. Journal of Poverty, Vol. 16, Issue 3, pp. 353-362.

  • Reynolds, MaryLee (2008) The War on Drugs, Prison Building, and Globalization: Catalysts for the Global Incarceration of Women. NWSA Journal, Vol. 20, Issue 2, pp. 72-95.

Modules for Educators & Students


Module 1: What Is “Justice”?

Module 1: Overview

The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America, and the Bill of Rights, the “founding documents” of the nation, speak directly to the ideals of freedom from oppression, equality, and justice for all.

Yet, some people were excluded from this American compact. For example, women were denied suffrage and property rights; African Americans were enslaved; Native Americans were pushed from their land. Historically, these groups and others have engaged in a centuries-long struggle to obtain equity. In the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century, in the United States and across the globe, social movements (see below) brought an expansion of freedom for those who were oppressed. But injustice based on individual and group characteristics, such as gender, race/ethnicity, religion, and sexuality, continues to exist.

In the United States, as elsewhere, the challenge of the 21st century is to achieve justice for all in societies that are increasingly multicultural. Justice is often defined as “fairness” or “equal treatment.” However, the concept of justice is complex. What an individual considers just is shaped not only by personal characteristics (such as gender, race/ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic status), but by the time and place in which he or she lives. What is just remains a matter for debate. Observing the same outcome of a situation, one person may say justice was done. Another may declare the outcome an injustice and great wrong.

Moreover, there are various forms of justice – criminal justice, social justice, restorative justice. Whatever form of justice we are discussing, we may find ourselves discussing not only the culpability (blameworthiness) of offenders, but the ethics of those charged with doing justice, such as police officers and lawyers. We also may discuss the role of the media in providing coverage of justice issues in our communities. The rise of social media, with the ability of citizens to use Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, to engage in discussion about legal matters (such as high-profile cases) raises even more questions about justice in a free society.

Clearly, there is much to be said about justice. In this module, you have the opportunity to examine some documents and videos relevant to this discussion and to begin thinking about what justice means to you.

Module 1: Suggested Activities

Activity 1

Listen to or read these speeches by two African American leaders, speaking over a century apart. How would you summarize the argument made by each speaker about justice and injustice?

Activity 2

Read this “Law Day” address that then-Governor (later President) Jimmy Carter delivered at the University of Georgia, May 1974. What concerns did Governor Carter express about inequality and the law?

Activity 3

What is “criminal justice”? How is "criminal justice" different from “social justice”? What do the two have in common?

  1. Go to UAlbany's School of Criminal Justice website and explore courses, undergraduate majors and graduate programs.
  2. Watch this video, What does social justice mean to you?, in which people are asked to offer their definition of social justice.
  3. Watch this video, Restorative Justice Introduction, which is a discussion about restorative justice.

Now, how would you define "justice"? What does justice mean to you?

Module 2: How Do People Respond to Injustice?

Module 2: Overview

In this module, we’ll look at the variety of possible responses when a person or group feels a situation is unjust. These responses may range from silence to protest. The individual or group may attempt to bring about change by peaceful means, such as non-violent civil disobedience, or by violent actions, such as rebellions, riots, or vigilantism. The perception by many that a social, economic, political, and/or legal system is unjust often gives rise to a social movement.

Module 2: Suggested Activities

Activity 1

Citizens have sometimes “taken the law in their own hands” to punish behavior by others that they believe inappropriate or illegal. These acts of “vigilante justice” include activities such as the lynchings of African American in the South and of alleged rustlers and others on the Western frontier.

Watch this clip from The Ox-Bow Incident, a classic film about frontier vigilantes, based on the novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. In the movie, members of the self-appointed posse that mistakenly hanged three innocent men, listen to a letter written by one of them to his wife.

What points does the letter writer make about law and justice?

Activity 2

Watch this PBS video about a student who engaged in an act of civil disobedience because of his concern about the environment.

What do you think about civil disobedience as a response to perceived social problems?

Activity 3

Violence by others often produces responses aimed at throwing a spotlight on the wrongs committed against the victims. Sometimes those responses take the form of art or music.

Listen to the song “Strange Fruit" about lynching performed by singer Billie Holliday. Does Ms. Holliday’s performance and the images of the song add to your understanding of lynching and its impact?

Activity 4

Social movements range across the political spectrum, and reflect the beliefs of those involved that a change in laws and/or policies is urgently needed. This brief video introduction to social movements will provide an overview.

General Discussion Questions

  1. In your opinion, what are acceptable responses to a situation in which individuals or groups have suffered harm?
  2. If the situation doesn’t affect you directly, is there any reason to get involved?

In the modules that follow, you will find information about various forms of injustice in American history. The resources provided can be used as a starting point for further discussion and for class projects.

Module 3: Conquest and Slavery

Module 3: Overview

The contacts between European (Dutch, English, French, and Spanish) colonists and the people they called “Indians” (but who had their own names for themselves) resulted in the decimation of Indian (or Native American) nations. By 1890, the federal government could declare that the Indian Wars on the plains were over and the continent had been settled. The Indians themselves had lost their land and been confined to reservations.

The contacts between Europeans and Africans on the African continent and in the “New World” being settled by European colonists resulted in the creation of a slave system in a nation that proclaimed freedom for all. Africans and their African American descendants who were kidnapped, sold, or born into slavery provided the labor that enriched slave owners in the South and those who profited from the slave trade in the North. Until gradual manumission in the early 19th century, New Yorkers owned more slaves than residents of any other Northeastern state. Eventually, the eroding political compromise about slavery that had allowed the creation of a nation would fuel the Civil War that ripped it apart.

Module 3: Suggested Activities

Activity 1

To learn more about Native Americans and their special status in relation to the federal government, review FAQs about Native Americans from the Office of Tribal Justice, a unit of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Activity 2

To learn more about the experience of slavery, visit PBS' Slavery in the Making of America website. How did slave owners defend what is now perceived as the injustice of slavery?

Activity 3

Watch this dramatized conversation between escaped slave and abolitionist Fredrick Douglass and white abolitionist John Brown, who would eventually lead a failed attempt to incite a slave rebellion.

What do you think of the argument made by Brown about the use of violence in ending slavery?

Module 4: Women’s Rights

Module 4: Overview

Historically, in most societies, men and women occupied roles in their families and their communities that were shaped by their gender. Women’s roles were often defined as “wives” and “mothers.” In the United States, as elsewhere, women have been engaged in a centuries-long struggle to obtain equal rights.

In the 19th century, some women in the United States were involved in a suffrage movement, aimed at obtaining the right to vote. They also sought changes in the law that would give women greater control over their lives (such as control over their own property and the right to divorce their husbands and retain custody of their children).

Many of these women supported the equal access of women to professional schools (particularly, medicine and law). Some of these early feminists were also involved in other social movements, such as the abolitionist movement, the temperance movement, and the dress reform movement.

Women obtained the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

In the 1960s, a new generation of women challenged remaining barriers to education, employment, and other opportunities. In the 21st century, women have yet to obtain equity in some areas, including equal pay.

In the criminal justice system, women have faced gender-specific issues as victims, offenders, and criminal justice practitioners and professionals.

Here is a timeline of the women’s movement in the United States.

Review these documents from the 19th century women’s movement from the PBS documentary "Not for Ourselves Alone." Note in particular the “Declaration of Sentiments” from the famous convention at Seneca Falls, New York.

Lastly, here is a clip of then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking at the United Nations about women’s rights in the 21st century.

Module 4: Suggested Activities

Activity 1

Think about and discuss these questions:

  • Should  men and women have the same legal rights?
  • Should men and women always be treated the same in school and work situations?
  • Should men and women always be treated the same by the criminal justice system?

Activity 2

What comes to mind when you think about how women are portrayed in popular culture (such as television, music, films and video games)?

Activity 3

How do you think race/ethnicity and socioeconomic class affect the treatment of women of color and women who are poor?

Module 5: The Labor Movement in the United States

Module 5: Overview

From the founding of the United States, labor — slave and free — was both an economic and a social issue. White indentured servants worked alongside African slaves. Both sometimes ran away, fleeing the “master” who held their contract (indentured servants) or who had purchased them (slaves). Here are some of the ads placed in newspapers for slaves and indentured servants who ran away:

  • Ads from the Virginia Gazette
  • Ads from the Richmond Dispatch

Indentured servants were required to work off the costs of their passage to America. They were generally freed in seven years, unless they ran away or engaged in other behavior that resulted in having additional time added to their contracts. Some indentured servants came to America willingly; others did not. But, unlike the African American slaves, white indentured servants would become free.

However, by the 19th century, free white laborers were becoming increasingly conscious of economic inequities. They supplied the hard, manual labor while the owners of factories, mills, railroads, and other industries became wealthy.

In the period after the Civil War, as the rich became richer, labor leaders sought to organize. Strikes and protests by labor were often met with force. One such event occurred in Ludlow, Colorado:

The Homestead Strike occurred at a steel mill in Pennsylvania in 1892. In 1921, in Albany, Troy, and three other cities in the Capital Region, local trolley car company workers went on strike.

Women were involved in the labor movement too. In New York City, the capital of the garment industry, women workers protested their working conditions. The Triangle Factory Fire brought those conditions to the nation’s attention.

One of the more controversial strikes in American history involved the 1919 Boston Police. This strike led to a debate that is still going on about whether public employees should have the right to strike. Then Governor (later President) Calvin Coolidge said the police had no right to strike and called in the militia.

Module 5: Suggested Activities

Activity 1

Discuss the question posed by the Boston Police Strike. Do you think public sector employees such as police officers, air traffic controllers and teachers should have the right to strike for better working conditions?

Activity 2

When a strike occurs, men and women who cross the picket line to work while others are striking are often subjected to name calling by the strikers and their supporters.

In the past, those who crossed the picket line often included African Americans, who would not normally have been able to get jobs in the factory or mill and who were brought in as "strike breakers."

What do you think about crossing a picket line to take a job?

Module 6: The Environment and Animal Rights

Module 6: Overview

The first “Earth Day,” a now annual event, occurred in 1970. This day is set aside to educate the public about the environmental challenges that we and the planet face. The organizers hoped that awareness would lead to an environmental movement.

Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (1962), brought environmental pollution to public attention. Here is a brief introduction to Carson’s work.

But the movement to conserve natural resources did not begin in the 1960s. The American Conservation movement began much earlier.

By the turn of the 20th century, organizations such as the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club were also involved in conservation efforts.

But efforts by naturalists and conservationists to save wildlife and preserve wild lands were occurring in the wake of colonization and westward migration on the American continent. Commercial trading in animal pelts and the feathers of birds, the slaughter of the buffalo, railroad building and mining, had all contributed to the deterioration of the environment. The factories and mills in towns and cities belched out smoke and polluted the streams and rivers.

City planners sought to create what we now call "green spaces." New York City’s Central Park is an enduring monument to this idea.

But the poor who lived in New York City and other metropolises were confined to the worst areas of the city. New York City’s Five Points was one of the more notorious of such urban neighborhoods. Here’s a glimpse of Five Points in a walking tour conducted by the creator and producer of Copper, a television series set in the 19th century.

As this clip suggests, historically, the lives of poor people in the city have been much more unhealthy and perilous than the lives of the wealthy. In fact, poor people everywhere are more likely to live in areas that have been or are exposed to environmental hazards. Today, this is as true for the poor living in the mountains of West Virginia, the Mississippi Delta, and Native American reservations as for the poor living in urban inner city neighborhoods.

Concern about the unfairness of the distribution of environmental hazards (such as sewage processing plants) gave rise to what is known as the "environmental justice movement.".  Here is information on environmental justice from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The environmental justice movement overlaps with the newer “food justice” movement, which focuses on the availability of healthy food sources in urban communities.  The food justice movement grows out of concern about the lack of supermarkets in urban inner city neighborhoods and the lack of ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables at an affordable price. One aspect of this movement involves "urban farming."

In addition, to the environmental justice movement, the modern “animal rights” movement focuses on protecting animals from humans. As with some activities of environmentalists protesting certain action (such as logging), some protests by animal rights activists have been controversial. However, the animal rights activists have spoken for animals who cannot speak for themselves.

Module 6: Suggested Activities

Activity 1

What do you think should determine whether or not land is used for drilling, mining, or harvesting other natural resources?

If we need fuel to maintain the way we live in America, should we turn to lands that are currently wild as a source of this oil, gas, and coal?

Activity 2

Animal rights activists have on occasion freed animals being used in laboratory research. Do you think this can be justified in some situations?

Does it matter what kind of research is being done (for example, research for a new line of cosmetics versus research to find a cure for cancer)?

Module 7: Immigration

Module 7: Overview

Illegal immigration is a topic that tends to generate heated debate. This debate often focuses on Mexican citizens crossing the border without official documentation that would allow them to come into the United States legally to visit, work, or attend school. The southwestern states through which many of these illegal immigrants enter the United States were once a part of the country of Mexico.  As the loser in the war, Mexico agreed to cede a significant portion of Mexican territory to the United States.

The matter of “the border” has loomed large in the relations between Mexico and the United States. This has been especially true because of the participation of Mexicans in the migrant labor pool necessary to harvest crops in many parts of the country. During World War II, the United States welcomed Mexican farm workers.

But one of the labor movements of the 1960s focused on the treatment and working conditions of farm workers. One of the leaders of the movement was a Mexican American labor organizer, Cesar Chavez.

The stereotypes about Mexican illegal immigrants have a direct impact on American citizens of Mexican and Spanish ancestry. The anger some other Americans feel about illegal immigrants is sometime misdirected at Mexican American (Latino/a, Chicano/a) citizens. Historically, events such as the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles during World War II illustrate the nature of this conflict.

However, we should note that the immigration debate has not been confined to the Mexican border. Americans have arrived on these shores in waves. The English won out in the race to settle and claim the continent. When the Irish arrived in the 19th century, they — who had a long history of conflict with the English — were the subject of stereotypes and discrimination. In turn, Irish immigrants were sometimes involved in conflicts with African Americans, with whom they competed for poorly paying jobs and whom many recently arrived Irish immigrants blamed for the Civil War draft.

But it was Chinese immigrants to America who were the first to be officially singled out for a federal law (the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) that restricted their immigration to the United States. Chinese men who had been able to come into the United States as laborers found that they could not bring Chinese women to American for marriage. Chinese immigrants settled into communities that became known as “Chinatowns,” and that initially were the only areas in which they were allowed to live. On the West Coast, Chinese men were beaten and even lynched when they attempted to work in occupations that were restricted to white males.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Italian immigrants were among the non-English speaking immigrants who arrived in the United States. They, too, experienced discrimination. In the public mind, Italian Americans as an ethnic  group became associated with the criminal activities of “the Black Hand,” a secret organization involved in extortion and kidnapping, and with the mafia. The mafia would later become synonymous with organized crime in America, and the Italians would be identified with the “Italian Mafia.”

Each group of immigrants arriving in the United States has gone through a process of “becoming America” by adopting the language, clothing, and other aspects of the culture of mainstream America. Some groups have found this assimilation easier than others.

Module 7: Suggested Activities

Activity 1

The question of what to do about illegal immigration into the United States is a difficult one to resolve. What would you suggest is the appropriate response to illegal immigration.

Keep in mind that, although the focus is often on illegal immigration by Mexicans, illegal immigrants from other countries are also in this country.

Would it be fair and justice to deport everyone who is in the country illegally? Should we make exceptions?

Activity 2

The United States does not have an official language, but some states list English as their official language.

Do you think that state governments should recognize the fact that we are a multicultural society by including other languages as official languages, in addition to English?

Or is it sufficient to make sure that all important documents and information are available in multiple languages?

Module 8: Other Topics to Consider

Module 8: Overview

There are many other topics that we can explore in discussions of justice and multiculturalism. Visit the "Resources" above for additional resources, including information on genocide and Michelle Alexander’s book on mass incarceration, The New Jim Crow.

You may also wish to explore topics such as disability, age, religion, sexuality and veteran status.

Module 8: Suggested Activities

Activity 1

Select one of the topics above and think about issues related to criminal and/or social justice.

For example, what about age? Do you think people over age 65 are sometimes stereotyped and discriminated against?  What about people under age 21?

Activity 2

Now that you have made your way through these modules, begin to think about what really interest you.

What didn’t you know before you came to this website? What would you like to know more about?