What is Social Justice at University of Portland


Overview of the question at hand.

The State of Social Justice at UP.

An overview of the Concept Map used in their recorded presentation.

Students' review of their assumptions.

Synthesis of evidence and mapping against community initiatives.

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Duration: 4 weeks
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Project Brief

Wicked problems are problems whose solution requires a great number of people to change their mindsets and behavior. A striking quote from the comedian and actor D.L. Hughley paints a vivid picture of America, “… America is aspirational. … Obama is what we would like to be. Donald Trump and his supporters are what we are.” (source) On January 20, 2017 Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. On May 25, 2020, the death of George Floyd pushed a nation into action towards social justice.

Race is a construct of power and oppression. It is one of the defining features of being an American. It is so definitive we must purposefully strive to be antiracist, as the system of racism is insidiously engrained into each and every American citizen. Racism and other forms of oppression start at home and propagate throughout education. We are not born racist, sexist, or with any other form of discrimination. However, we are all born with ability to make choices and the willingness to make and transform the natural and artificial world that surrounds us.

Project Setup

The class of students were broken up into three teams and each team had their own research objective under the larger umbrella of “What is Social Justice at UP?” Each team was assigned a Team Leader to act as a liaison between the recruited participants and to ensure the team was on track for their deliverables.

  • Team 1: Question the Question: What is Social Justice at UP?
  • Team 2: Establishing long term goals: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Team 3: Hatching Bold Ideas for Social Justice at UP

The methods for each session were guided by recipes from the LUMA Institute. Students had to construct their own scripts to conduct a session within a 1-hour and 15-minute time block. In addition, students had to be creative in using various online tools to facilitate each method to achieve the desired outcome. The image below outlines the timeline for the project. It should be noted that class was cancelled on Thursday, November 26, which was an oversight in planning that led to pushing the due date to December 3rd.

Learning Objectives

  • Demonstrate your ability to work as a team to uncover qualitative insights into a wicked problem and empathize with a community.
  • Communicate with stakeholders and leadership of an organization to push them to examine policies.
  • If you've made something pretty without understanding why, then you did it wrong. 


Each of the three separate teams had to complete the following:

  1. Recruit and obtain consent forms from Faculty, Staff, and Students
  2. A written session script & MIRO board (or any other digital tools)
  3. Conduct a pilot session with fellow classmates as stand-in participants
  4. Conduct the actual session with recruited participants
  5. An analysis and synthesis report providing immediate action for UP Leadership

Each team synthesized their findings and merged their outcomes into a collaborative recorded presentation. Students chose the method of Concept Mapping to present the intricate details and high level relationships of the problem space. This presentation was delivered to the Assistant Provost for International Education, Diversity and Inclusion who is also acting Chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Inclusion (PACOI). It should also be noted that Salvador Orara is also a contributing member on PACOI.



Closing Statement by the students:

We need to amplify the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion work that is already being done within various UP organizations because their previous efforts have been compartmentalized. With collaboration between organizations, the community will be able to make unified progress towards a socially just campus.

Students of the Innovation Minor, Cohort ’21


The fall 2020 semester was fully remote and 100% online for the Innovation Minor. This presented a teaching and learning challenge in the face of so many wicked problems directly impacting the definition of reality. INV300 fa20 – Empathy, Observational Research, and Human-Centered Design took on the topic of social justice to develop the empathetic mindset and the continuation of exploring how to implement human-centered design methods as the core practice of innovation. 

Teaching design and innovation within the space of social justice at a private Catholic institution of higher education is no easy task. There are no UP-specific templates or frameworks for facilitating discussions at the intersection of race, religion, and innovation. In the face of social unrest there was no sense in designing assignments for developing empathy around trivial topics. The low hanging fruit we find today is due to their overwhelming weight of systemic impact and most often, because designers do not work in these wicked areas as often as they should. 

I would have provided an extra week to dig deeper on how to interpret evidence and develop insights. I would have also provided another additional week to allow students to design prototypes of the various ideas they proposed. These changes would make it a 6-week project. 

Visit the Innovation Minor website to learn more about the program: https://sites.up.edu/innovation-minor/what-is-social-justice-at-up/


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