Wheelock College Launches New Online Master’s in Social Justice Education
With an aim toward confronting “the consequences of systemic inequities and discrimination,” the program officially begins this fall
Wheelock College of Education & Human Development has added a new online master’s program to its offerings: the Master of Education (EdM) in Education for Equity and Social Justice.
The multidisciplinary program is offered fully online, but participants can take electives in person on Boston University’s campuses. Select courses from the new EdM launched as a Wheelock graduate certificate in 2021. The full program officially starts with the fall 2023 semester.
The EdM is a result of collaboration among faculty from across departments and colleges, says program director Felicity Crawford, a Wheelock clinical associate professor of special education. The new master’s program, according to Wheelock, “prepares responsible, empowered, and civically engaged professionals to confront the consequences of systemic inequities and discrimination against people who have been historically marginalized in educational and social service institutions.” Following completion, graduates are set up for advisory or executive roles in education-focused institutions such as pre-K–12 schools, universities, and nonprofit organizations.
After the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020, two separate cases that helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement, Crawford and many of her colleagues began to wonder what they could do to counter compounding issues of inequity in the country. Racial injustices, book bans and curriculum censorship, attacks on women’s healthcare, erasures of protections for transgender youth—there were no end of injustices to confront, Crawford says.
“If you try to address one matter only, you negate all the others. Then you’re still left with all those other issues,” she says. “We decided to take a multidisciplinary approach to exploring both the historical and contemporary sources of inequity that reside in the operation of our institutions.” From healthcare to education to law, “systems are interconnected. A change in one system precipitates a change in another.”
The EdM curriculum is divided into five main courses and a thesis project. Students also take three social-justice elective courses of their choosing. The first core course covers the systemic roots of inequity in order to give students an understanding of how disparities emerge in a population. The second delves into how institutions uphold oppressive practices, as well as how to educate people to rise above them.
The third course explores the legacy of racism in healthcare and science, both fields that have either historically exploited marginalized populations or have been used to justify exploitation. (Crawford points to racialized experiments in gynecology and the myth that Black people biologically don’t feel as much pain as examples.)
It’s important to understand that history, she says, so we know how to move forward from it. Crawford also helped create the College of Arts & Sciences course Institutional Racism in Health and Science. (Some of the course’s instructors helped develop the Wheelock program, as well.)
“By the time the pandemic hit, we had people who were really hesitant about the medical establishment,” Crawford says. “Reeducating all of us is important—you cannot move on unless you work to rehabilitate those who have been harmed by [these fields], as well as those who have been instrumental in systems that historically harm people.”
The fourth and fifth courses set students up for a social justice research project, and they complete a graduate thesis for the project. They study research and community engagement practices as they select a thesis topic and then get started on their projects. Crawford says she and her colleagues talked to researchers across BU’s campuses about creating opportunities for EdM students to join their research teams.
Olivia Poulin (Wheelock’24), an administrative coordinator at BU’s Center for Antiracist Research (CAR), is part of the inaugural cohort of equity and social justice EdM students. Poulin says the program allows her to “meaningfully integrate both my former work as a high school English teacher specializing in antiracist curriculum design and my current work within the CAR advocacy office” into her graduate studies.
“I appreciate how it addresses the intersectional realities that currently perpetuate oppression within and beyond the education field,” she says, “while creating opportunities for students to envision liberatory pathways forward through their research.”
The program, which includes summer courses, takes one year to complete for full-time students. Part-time students can complete it within two years.
The battle for equality is multifaceted, and often uphill. Crawford and her colleagues hope the new EdM gives students the tools they need to tackle injustice from whatever angle they’re drawn to.
“I’m not saying that education is going to fix all of these serious issues—what I’m saying is it gives us a significant start,” she says. “Schools are really nurseries of democracy, and hope. They’re nurseries of ‘Can we change what is?’ once we understand the problems. The goal is for people to leave this program with a sense of agency, and a sense of ‘I know how to do this.’”