Faculty Show Social Justice Can Be Taught

Dr. Rose Sebastianelli

In today’s global economy, a little more social justice could go a long way.

With that in mind, the Operations and Information Management (OIM) Department is making this main tenet of the Jesuit philosophy a significant part of its curriculum.

Thanks to the results of a research project by three professors, it appears that integrating social justice themes into undergraduate business courses is making a difference. These professors, all from the OIM department, infused social justice into statistics, management science, operations management and business information management core courses.

The intention is to mold business graduates who possess a firm understanding and commitment to ethics, justice and good works on behalf of underserved populations.

Professor Rose Sebastianelli, Ph.D., Alperin Endowed Chair in Business Administration, Associate Professor Yibai Li, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Ozgur Isil, Ph.D., began their work in 2017.

They spent four semesters incorporating social justice elements into their courses. Using a rigorous pre-test post-test research design with control groups, they set out to determine if students' beliefs, attitudes and intentions regarding social justice could be changed for the better.

The results were encouraging.

“We found these efforts made a difference in attitude and perceptions of social norms surrounding social justice,” Sebastianelli said.

Ozgur Isil Yibai Li Rose Sebastianelli
Dr. Ozgur Isil  Dr. Yibai Li Dr. Rose Sebastianelli

A Sense of Purpose for Faculty

The seeds of the project were planted several years ago, when Dr. Sebastianelli participated in the national Ignatian Colleagues Program for Jesuit university administrators and faculty seeking a deeper appreciation for the religious order’s core values.

It included online workshops, reflection papers, seminars and an immersion trip to the United States-Mexico border through the KINO Border Initiative. The program concluded with a capstone experience in which participants plan projects for advancing mission on their own campuses.

“It really gave me a renewed sense of purpose in my work here – it’s so incumbent upon us to try to live our mission,” Dr. Sebastianelli said. “It made me think, ‘What more can I do to help students and faculty become instilled with these values?’”

As her capstone project, Dr. Sebastianelli organized a Business Education for Justice seminar for Kania School faculty. Drs. Li and Isil were among the participants, and its focus on issues like environmental sustainability, ethics and corporate social responsibility paved the way for the research project.

Social Justice a Timely Topic

Dr. Sebastianelli is confident social justice can be seamlessly integrated into the curriculum, considering the many issues now at play in the international business community -- be it child labor laws or environmental regulations.

Even a highly analytical course like statistics, which Dr. Sebastianelli teaches, can be infused with social justice via examples that revolve around societal problems like gender and racial discrimination, she said.

Dr. Li plans to use assignments and case studies to weave social justice into his Business Information Management course.

“A lot of new technologies such as cloud computing, big data, business intelligence and blockchain, terms that people didn't’t hear about 10 years ago, now have been widely applied in the business world,” Dr. Li said. “Things happen so quickly that the legal, ethical, social justice and privacy implications of these technologies have not been fully understood by the industry.”

Dr. Isil will specifically focus on incorporating environmental sustainability into the OIM courses.

“Environmental sustainability issues often have implications on social justice. For example, environmental degradation in the developed world can negatively impact less developed countries, such as through increased flooding in developing countries due to worsening climate change caused by emissions from developed countries,” he said. “How should the scientific consensus on worsening environmental degradation inform business, which causes much of the environmental degradation?”

Impacting the Future

The professors have presented their research at several conferences, and have written a manuscript that has been accepted for publication in the Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education. They hope the concept will eventually spread to other business schools.

“This is something that, to me, has meaning and could have an impact on the future,” Dr. Sebastianelli said. “Maybe if we can get students to think this way now, they might consider the consequences and ramifications of their actions once they’re in their careers.”

“In the future, when they are in managerial positions, I hope they will recall what they learned in my course,” Dr. Li added. “And I hope they will make thoughtful decisions that will benefit not only their business but also all of society.”

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