top of page

Social Justice Issues and The Composition II Research Paper

A consequence of the Black Lives Matter movement that began in 2012 after George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin is that many white people have become defensive. People tend to “think that the battle for civil rights was fought somewhere back in the misty realms of history,” and unlike Ward, Day-Wiff, and Young, they think that the civil rights movement ended in the mid-twentieth century (135). The consequence has been resistance to #BLM in the form of Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, statements that indicate that those identifying as white fail to understand that #BLM does not negate the lives of police officers or whites; instead #BLM demonstrates how being white functions as a normative framework that whites do not have to pay attention to for survival in America, similar to the male framework that men do not have to pay attention to but women do. But as Jessica Lyons demonstrates in our Week 4 discussion (, the intersection of different frameworks can cause “hair trigger reactions to possible threats” to one’s sense of identity and community (136).

While the ELA classroom may be the correct place to discuss social justice issues, it may also be a dangerous place to do so. Students must learn that “Democracy is not a spectator sport” (qtd. 137), and the way to do so is to teach students to think critically about social justice issues (or to think critically about basically anything) which can be presented through YAL in the ELA classroom. Ward, Day-Wiff, and Young provide scholarly insight, experience, and specific ways the ELA (or any) teacher can create “a framework for teaching and learning about … societal conception … in U.S. history and contemporary society” (144). Combining Ward, Day-Wiff, and Young’s methods of teaching social justice with Williams and Blasingame’s cautions about not using texts that only the teacher can connect with (223) and which may inadvertently teach “narrow-minded notions and prejudices” (223), teachers can create school cultures that give real respect, not a token nod, to a range of “voices and experiences” that do not privilege “white boys and their dogs” (246).

My husband and I each teach ENC 1102, College Composition II. He teaches high school students at a dual enrollment charter high school at the college we work at, and I teach “regular” college students, who range in age from fourteen (yes, last fall I had a homeschooled fourteen year old taking his first college class) to older than me (that same class had a forty-six year old military veteran). Instead of the awareness research paper we teach in Comp. I, in Comp II we deal with social justice issues. The biggest hurdle we have is that many white students in our area (Polk County, Florida) do not understand that nonwhites are not attacking them but are attacking a system of beliefs. I imagine that some of my white students do not participate in discussions students may start because they do not feel as if they will be listened to because they are white.

However, since this is a writing class, most of the writing is individualized and usually only the student and I know what the research topic is. The challenge is to get students to understand that social injustices occur now, and that while they may not be a victim of the injustice, the injustice exists and we need to take a stance on the issue. We do receive push back. Students want to write about the “easy” topic of modern day slavery, but we question them about what is controversial regarding that topic. If it were a Comp. I topic, awareness that modern day slavery exists would suffice, but in Comp. II we ask what the controversy is. Does not everyone who is a “normal” human being recognize that modern day slavery is bad? Yes, students say. Then what is the controversy? we ask. At a school where the average age is twenty-five, sixty-one percent is female, seventy-seven percent is part time (usually due to work and family obligations), and serves 28,000 students, students know that there are social justice issues, but many are not ready to face them because they do not fit their frameworks. That’s where we do our small part to question each topic the students bring us to help them think through what social justice is and what parts might be controversial. It is a tremendous task. One way I’ve found to help us navigate this is to post a Google spreadsheet of past thesis statements and to have students post their thesis statements and discuss their thesis statements during a class period. Students who need help thinking up their own thesis statements can steal ones from the sample page, and I’ve found that some students willingly help and others willingly accept help regarding the wording of their thesis statements and where to find sources. It has worked well for Comp. I, and I will be adjusting it for Comp. II in the spring.

I cannot link this course to the Google spreadsheet as it would violate confidentiality issues, but below the works cited is a copy of the sample spreadsheet. Each class has its own spreadsheet on which students type their thesis statements. Jalance is a nickname for a student who gave me permission to use all of his writings as examples for my students, so I have named his and I give my students parts of his research, thesis and outline, rough draft, and final draft so that they have a sample of how to write a research paper. Feel free to steal and adjust for your own use and to suggest improvements.

Works Cited

“About Polk State College.” Polk State College,

Ward, Barbara A., Deanna Day-Wiff, and Terrell A. Young. “Civil Rights and Social Justice: Then and Now — How Much Progress Have We Made.” Teaching Young Adult Literature Today: Insights, Considerations and Perspectives for the Classroom Teacher, second edition, edited by Judith A. Hayn, Jeffrey S. Kaplan, and Karina R. Clemmons, Rowman and Littlefield, 2017, pp. 135-148.

Williams, Wend, and James Blasinggame. “Celebrating All Voices: Assuring Diversity in Young Adult Literature.” Teaching Young Adult Literature Today: Insights, Considerations and Perspectives for the Classroom Teacher, second edition, edited by Judith A. Hayn, Jeffrey S. Kaplan, and Karina R. Clemmons, Rowman and Littlefield, 2017, pp. 223-250.

Name Thesis: Topic + Verb + Stance

Jalance The legalization of recreational marijuana would harm Florida's communities.

x Black Lives Matter supporters are a powerful voice; they are uniting people and facilitating change in the criminal justice system. Black Lives Matter supporters effectively challenge inequality [in the justice system].

x Global warming has become a crucial matter for all the Floridians and can cause diversity catastrophes in Florida. Florida's governmental ban on using the terms "global warming" and "climate change" demonstrates officials' bias [negligence, ignorance].

x Banning open carry violates Floridians' constitutional rights uphold on the ban of open carry shows little support of the constitutional rights United States' citizens have to protect themselves. [constitutional (federal) carry]

x Florida legislators need to understand the importance of Planned Parenthood as a health care resource. necessity for low income women. and that a woman's healthcare shouldn't be an option but a necessity.

x Legalizing concealed carry for licensed individuals on Florida college campuses is the best way to keep students and faculty safe in the event of an extreme situation.

x Florida's Stand Your Ground law has kept many people safe.

x Florida's educational system continually fails nonwhite students.

x Increased stem cell funding in Florida is necessary to develop more effective disease treatment. Physician assisted suicide should be implemented in Florida.

x Bullying should be a crime; many teens have killed themselves because they were bullied. Those who bully [how do we measure this?] should actually be prosecuted. Schools should be required to report bullying incidents, and [district attorneys] should be required to prosecute repeat offenders.

x Florida has been environmentally impacted by resources and by the process of extracting the resources. Energy extraction [fracking, offshore oil rigs] and human activity [driving, landfill, meat v. nonmeat eaters, plastic, zero waste lifestyle] negatively impact Florida's environment. [look at the $, NASA research on human activity]

x Phosphate mining is devastating to the Florida ecosystem; it pollutes the water and diminishes our aquifer. [do not conflate the two water types, maybe talk about more than just water]

x Florida voting districts need to be redrawn to produce a more [diverse, fair, equal, accurate] voting map.

x School vouchers may seem like a good idea, but they will decimate [have decimated] schools and damage [have damaged] local communities. [Pinellas County]

x Offshore oil drilling can be beneficial for the state of Florida as long as it is regulated to protect the environment.

x While many groups oppose the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the ACA has benefitted most people. , especially low-income earners a lot of people who are low income earners and is made affordable and accessible to almost everyone.

x Since Floridians have the right to fish, all bodies of water in the state should have regulated public access. we should have the right to access certain bodies of water, but the regulations on getting hunting and fishing licenses should be more detailed.

x People who have a concealed carry permit should be allowed to take their guns everywhere, even to schools.

x Systemic racism and high nonwhite death rates during police custody demonstrate the importantce of Black Lives Matters. All officers take an oath to protect all citizens; however, recent acts of police brutality prove otherwise.

x College students should not be allowed to conceal carry on campus unless they complete training beyond the concealed carry class.

x People should have the right to conceal carry a gun as long as they have been properly processed by the Florida Department of Agriculture.

x Florida must reduce the number of K12 assessment tests because the tests do not demonstrate students' full capabilities.

x Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) systems should conduct space travel instead of humans.

x Artificial light may benefit people, but light pollution can affect human life, animals, and enviornments.

x Florida's K12 standardized testing system is an unreliable measure of student performance.

x The Wounded Warriors Project does effectively use its donations to support veterans. brings awareness and support to verterans around Florida.

x Since Miami Beach soon faces extreme flooding due to the effects of climate change, the city must act now to protect itself.

x President Trump's executive order on immigration negatively impacts Florida's economy.

x Immigrants are a positive benefit to Florida's economy and more, but they still recieve less benefit and suffer from being discriminated because of their origins.

x Florida's wild life is captivating but unpredictable, so Floridians and tourists should keep their distance.

x Planned Parenthood is a trusted health care provider which should not be defunded.

x Police brutality is the dangerous use of force that negatively changes communties' views of authority, [but body cameras help reduce police brutality and improve communities' views of authority]. but force can be used effectively and appropriately.

x Phosphate mining harms Florida's ecosystem; therefore, phosphate mining should be stopped.

x Rapid climate change and global warming are changing the world. controversy? solution to climate change? $$$$ We should stop destroying habitat. ??????????

x Standardized testing should be abolished because it doesnt show students true abilities.

x Prison wardens and guards treat jail inmates inhumanely.

x The state of Florida should carefully track and be reimbursed funding for charter schools that close. Charter schools that close should reimburse the state of Florida.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Classic
  • Twitter Classic
  • Google Classic
bottom of page