UI will feature a new Social Justice and Performing Arts Certificate Program

While the University of Iowa has offered social justice programs in the past, several departments have made the decision to collaborate and offer a new certificate that formally combines social justice and the performing arts.

Lillie Hawker

Halsey Hall at the University of Iowa is seen Saturday, April 30, 2022. Halsey is where the majority of dance classes take place.


From theatrical productions to choreographed routines, the connection between social justice and the performing arts exists in almost every artistic discipline.

While the University of Iowa has offered social justice programs in the past, it will now offer a new certificate that formally combines these two ideas.

Loyce Arthur, associate professor of design and one of the organizers of the certificate program, said the new social justice and performing arts certificate program offers students with both interests the opportunity to hone their skills. She said the relationship between previous social justice programs and the performing arts was limited.

“We all thought it would be a good idea to make this even more specific, where it could really be a concentration, rather than, say, one or two courses that a student takes with the [other] certificate,” Arthur said.

Arthur said the program also provides students with collaborative experiences that can enhance their work. Dream City and Public Space One are both community arts centers in Iowa City that focus on advocacy and wellness, and Arthur said both of these locations can work with students pursuing the new certificate. .

Theater Without Borders is another program that Arthur says could provide resources for students. The global organization supports an international theater exchange, and Arthur said it seeks to build relationships so students produce the work they want.

“It’s one thing to do a piece that has those themes, it’s another to produce that kind of work,” Arthur said. “We want to make sure that people have a place to produce this kind of work – to come together in partnerships with other like-minded people and to learn what it’s like to do these kinds of collaborations.”

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The new certificate encompasses several different forms of performing arts, including dance, theater and music. Race and ethnicity in the United States, gender, women and sexuality studies, global and transnational studies, environment and ecological justice are the broad categories that students can explore through art .

Arthur said the courses required with this new certificate program will prepare students for difficult conversations associated with social justice work. She said the core courses will give students specific instruction on their chosen topics of interest. These courses will then allow students to extrapolate these ideas through the chosen medium.

“Part of what we’re saying is if you want to do social justice work, if you want to do community engagement work or work in a community, there are certain skills you need that are involved in the course,” said Arthur. “There are conversations you need to have. You have to have knowledge before doing this kind of work.

Theater department chair Mary Beth Easley, who helped launch the certificate program, said performing arts and social justice are fundamentally linked.

“I think sometimes we listen more carefully when we hear a story because our whole lives are about stories, and we relate to those stories,” Easley said. “Often hearing that story or having empathy for the way someone else is living, or what’s going on with them, inspires us to take action so we can do something about it.”

Easley said the conversations for this program were started in response to the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. She said the Black Lives Matter movement is one of the avenues that has been explored through various forms of artwork. ‘art.

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Of the various social justice movements out there today, Easley said the timing of this program is ideal. Students have a desire to produce work that can bring change and awareness to certain topics, Easley said, and the new program aims to enable that to happen.

“I think now is the right time for that,” Easley said. “I think there are a lot of students on campus who are looking for outlets and a structure for those outlets, and that’s one way it can help them.”