Photo of Jacob Avery

Dr. Jacob Avery

The new focus will provide prepare students interested in pursuing jobs in justice and human rights

January 12, 2023

New Mexico Highlands University launched a new social justice concentration in Sociology and Anthropology this fall. Students from any discipline interested in social justice can also choose to add it as a minor.

The concentration in social justice will provide students with both theoretical and practical frameworks for understanding human rights, justice, and social movements from local and global perspectives. Courses can be chosen across a variety of disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, criminal justice, history, English, Political Science, and Spanish, among others, and coursework will prepare students for careers in community organizing, leadership, international non-governmental organizations, and law, among other options.

Dr Erika Derkas, professor of Sociology and Gender & Women’s Studies, comes from an activist background and said her activism is part of what inspired her to launch the social justice concentration. Additionally, the deep divides across the United States and globally prompted her to want to provide an educational framework for students who want to engage in the work of dialogue and repair.

“I want leaders to emerge out of this program,” Derkas said. “We need to share ideas and have a space to understand how we got here and what we’re going to do about it. Young people have the language for what’s happening but they’re stumbling in terms of what a just society looks like, so this coursework is about creating space for embracing the differences that people bring to the table.”

Dr. Jacob Avery, a new faculty member at NMHU, was hired specifically for his background in theory and his work around social justice issues. Students enrolled in his courses this spring will be learning about housing security issues and solutions.

Undergraduate students Carlo Marino and Lee Standing Elk were among the first students to enroll in social justice coursework last fall. They both chose social justice to understand the historical contexts for injustice and to learn how to contribute to positive change in their own communities in the future.

“For my future plans, I’d like to work for a place that does advocacy for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women or domestic violence, or any non-profit that is involved in advocating for others,” Standing Elk said.