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Social justice minor approved

Soon, Biola students will be able to act on the call to aid the suffering that was highlighted at last week’s Torrey Conference through a new minor — social justice.

Three years ago, anthropology professor Kevin Pittle stayed up all night wondering why Biola didn’t have a social justice program. He had just seen the movie “Amazing Grace,” illustrating the story of the abolition of slavery in England. Pittle said the film re-ignited a spark that had been latent in him since his own university days. That spark led him and a team of others from various departments across the Biola campus to compile several courses already offered and create a Christ-centered social justice minor, which was officially approved last week.

Sue Russell, chair of the anthropology department, explained what this minor would look like on Biola’s campus.

“We are talking about social justice from a biblical worldview,” she said. “What we mean is to do what God has called us to do, and that is help the marginalized, give voice to the voiceless and care for those who are in need, to restore things to the way they should be. It is about being a good neighbor.”

The minor fits into Biola’s biblical mission, Pittle said. Pointing to Isaiah 1:17 and Leviticus 19, Pittle said those who had wealth and power were to use it to help the most vulnerable — widows and orphans.

Russell agreed. Those who have wealth, she said, should not use it for themselves. Rather, they should use it to protect others and to take care of those who are vulnerable and looked down upon in society.

Russell and Pittle echoed Torrey speakers like Adrian De Visser from Sri Lanka.

“Christianity is the response that says ‘I love you, I care for you, and I’m going to do everything I can to lighten your load,’” De Visser said last Thursday night.

“The plans in the works are to make social justice something that students won't just study — they'll be doing it,” wrote Michael Longinow, who served on the committee that approved the minor, in an email. “That's what makes this new minor so important. We don't need another set of textbooks or topics for research papers. We need evangelical Christians learning the tools necessary to find those who are being treated unjustly and speak for them.”

The new minor, which will appear for the first time in the 2011 catalog, will partly draw from classes that already exist in anthropology, English, history, intercultural studies, political science and sociology departments.

It will also include three new “topic” classes, the first of which will be offered in the 2010 spring semester. Other departments, including the art and journalism departments, have expressed interest in offering classes for the minor as well.

“The minor belongs to the whole university,” Pittle said.

Sue Russell, chair of the anthropology department, agreed, saying each major brings its unique disciplinary perspective to issues of justice, she said.

Longinow said he hoped to see university departments help students understand and respond justly through a variety of means, from writing and visuals to medical care and counseling.

Russell, who has worked with minorities and language-endangered groups in East Asia, noted that the definition of a “good neighbor” has changed from a local to global perspective in recent years. In her first few years as a professor at Biola, Russell taught a seminar on Gospel and culture and discovered that many students had gone overseas and come in contact with social justice issues.

“Genocide, child prostitution, child soldiers, refugees, Aids, orphans. ... [Students] didn’t know what they could do or how to process what they had seen,” Russell said. “We can easily be overwhelmed by the issues that are facing the world and wonder what one person can do.”

Russell said her students were excited about her class and the projects she assigned. She had her students research topics and give presentations on them. Getting the information out, she said, is one of the key things students can do.

The minor will join other Biola efforts to speak out about social justice, including the International Justice Mission and the AS-sponsored Coalition for Social Action .

“The minor is a cutting edge emphasis in which it is imperative for the body of Christ to engage,” said Marla Campbell, associate professor of intercultural studies. “It is unconscionable to not address this issue.”

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