Social Justice Pedagogy

Faculty members Darcie Vandegrift and Lourdes Gutierrez Najera used Slay funds to deepen student ties to social justice focused community engaged learning. The project gave students new ideas about innovative ways to do research about and to present data for building a more just Des Moines metro.

The social justice outcomes for Vandegrift’s spring course on qualitative interviewing were two-fold. First, students came to understood gender violence on college campuses from a feminist sociological perspective. That is, sexual assault and other forms of gender violence happen through a combination of institutional policies, spatial arrangements, interpersonal interactions, and individual attitudes that make women on campuses vulnerable to gender violence. They analyzed gender violence on their own campus through empathic feminist interviews of college students. Finally, they worked to transmit their findings into social change through converting interview findings into theater vignettes with the editorial expertise of Drake student Clare Vanechaute and Vandegrift.

Impressively, fourteen students with no theater background wrote and performed the script, “How it Goes.” They created a performance that was coupled with a poetry reading by Roosevelt High School’s Women’s Studies students. Together with teacher Petra Lang, the Women’s Studies students talked about creating a safer college experience while sharing with Drake students the challenges faced at the intersections of race, class, nation and gender in high school as well as the traditions of spoken word poetry. This powerful morning of exchange was made possible by Slay Grant funding, which paid for Ms. Vanechaute’s time as a theater collaborator and the food for the workshop held for the performance.

Scenes from “How it Goes” were produced again for first year orientation at Drake in Fall 2016. The script and Vandegrift’s analysis of the experience is under preparation for publication in a journal article.

The Slay Fund also made possible an important collaboration between Community Housing Initiatives based in East Des Moines and Vandegrift’s spring course “Methods of Social Research.” Students completed a report based on focus groups and a survey of employees of Lutheran Hospital. They asked employees about perceptions of the neighborhood to imagine ways that the hospital could become a better East Side neighbor. Findings included misperceptions about safety, recommendations on programming to encourage interaction between hospital and community, and ideas on how to incentivize employees across social categories to move closer to work. Vandegrift and Drake student Heidi VonDeBur coauthored the final study and presented it to the City of Des Moines and the Capital East Neighborhood Association in June. Slay Funding made possible the community meeting for students to give presentations on the findings and for VonDeBur to create the final draft with Vandegrift and present it to East Side stakeholders.

Oral History Courses: Gutierrez Najera created a reception to invite informants for her students' oral history work. In honoring community member's stories, students were able to learn the obstacles faced by immigrants, refugees, and political activists living in the Des Moines metro. Informants were also able to give feedback about how their stories were told. A complete listing of Des Moines oral histories is online.

The oral histories students produced last year are located on the following website: 
The students and faculty hosted a reception for interviewees during the last week of classes. Two of the organizations who participated in our project were
Gateway Dance Theater-intrviewed Penny Fergurson
Monsoon-interviewed Mira Yousef, their Director as part of project
ArtSci News
October 20, 2016
The Comparison Project will present the third event in its 2016–2017 series on death and dying. A community interfaith dialogue on Oct. 27 will feature representatives of three different refugee religions in Des Moines.