Otterbein Office of Social Justice and Activism Takes Its Mission to High School
Posted Feb 23, 2021
An Office of Social Justice and Activism (OSJA) program that helps high school students learn about social justice has been so successful it’s being expanded.
Otterbein’s Office of Social Justice and Activism began offering its Social Justice Academy to students at Columbus Alternative High School last fall as part of the high school’s weekly internship program. Students met on Zoom with OSJA Director James Prysock, Otterbein chaplain Judy Guion-Utsler, and Otterbein student Kay Mitchell to learn about wide-ranging topics including identity, civil discourse, and engagement.
“It’s become a place for students to process their lived experiences and a place for them to practice and learn skills that help them engage with others about social justice,” Prysock explains. “And it gives them a language to use as they engage, as well as a way to respond in conversations in a way that is helpful rather than confrontational.”
The class came about, in part, because many of the internships the Columbus Alternative students normally would have available were cancelled due to the pandemic. Teachers and administrators were searching for other opportunities and came across the Otterbein curriculum.
Four Columbus Alternative teachers participated in the academy and, as a result of their experience and the students’ enthusiasm, Otterbein expanded the training in February into a five-week program for all Columbus Alternative teachers.
That program includes training about student identities, how to manage difficult social-justice moments in the classroom, and teaching with inclusivity, said Prysock, who is a graduate of both Columbus Alternative and Otterbein.
The mission of Prysock’s office is to foster a diverse and inclusive community and to promote respect, open-mindedness, and personal and civic responsibility. He said expanding the Social Justice Academy to high school students is one step towards meeting that mission.
The internship and teacher training, he said, have been successful enough that he hopes to expand them to other schools.
“We’re using Columbus Alternative as a pilot to see how well it works for both students and teachers,” he says. “It really may be something we can carry to other districts.”
For more information about OSJA, visit www.otterbein.edu/osja/.