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Social justice goals are usually sought in civic or community settings in which stakeholders represent competing frameworks about what is just, good, and true. Modeling for students a way to identify these competing frameworks, and then intervene in deliberations to achieve just ends, is the focus of our assignment sequence. We examine civic deliberations over removing racist public symbols in this assignment for first-year students enrolled in linked rhetoric and philosophy courses. We read broadly in theories of public memory and civic identity, examine in depth one community’s deliberation, and reflect on public symbols in our home communities. The final joint assignment asks students to identify the principles that should guide deliberations about contested public symbols. We found that the assemblage of ideas that the students select from these pre-drafting activities shapes what they think is possible in the work of social justice; in other words, their own standpoint enables and limits what they see in the assemblage of ideas, sometimes limiting the arc of social justice insights and solutions, and sometimes unleashing it. For this reason, reflective writing is a necessary entwined process, one that can develop better awareness of how students’ epistemic norms shape their ability to imagine social justice ends. To most fully realize social justice knowledge, students must not stay bound within the contours of particular deliberations, or inward reflection. Instead, assignments must enlarge the context, asking students to make bigger inquiries into history, context, and relations of domination.
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