Systems, Sustainability, and Social Justice

Course Number: SUST6100
Faculty: Nicole Rangel, PhD

“SSSJ gives us an opportunity to think critically about sustainability while always centering equity and justice. We do the important work of building community and developing the skills necessary for examining the most pressing, complex problems of our time with a systems thinking lens.” —Professor Nicole Rangel

What students learn in this course:

  • Understanding of how sustainability and social justice have been conceptualized and employed in business, government, and in broader social contexts.
  • Ability to conduct an analysis of a complex systems issue including the creation of a behavior over time graph and causal loop diagram(s) as well as a detailed annotated bibliography.
  • Skills to identify and interview or become involved with stakeholders of the chosen system; perform a detailed stakeholder analysis of the system.
  • Ability to engage in rigorous study and in respectful dialogue regarding complex, and at times controversial, issues.
  • Skills to identify sources and causes of social, economic, and environmental injustice and determine appropriate strategies that individuals, government agencies, and private businesses can practice to rectify harm and bring about healing.

About this course:

This first-term course centers on core tenets that are included in every course at Presidio Graduate School: systems thinking, sustainability, and social justice. We will explore various frameworks of sustainability and assess to what extent they prioritize the regeneration of the natural environment and the redress of social injustices. In particular, we will map how sustainability has been taken up in business and in government, and critically examine sustainability policies and practices within a historical and political context. In addition, students will engage in a rigorous study of social justice theories and contemporary issues, including climate change, mass incarceration, and poverty with an intersectional lens. Finally, students will learn the fundamentals of systems thinking and apply this approach not only to topics presented in the curriculum but also to a complex social or environmental issue of their choice. This final project aims to develop students’ systems thinking, research methods, stakeholder engagement strategies, and presentation skills.

Systems thinking project:

Over the course of the semester, you will research a social or environmental issue of your choosing using a systems-thinking approach. There are four substantive parts to this project: the story, a stakeholder analysis, a systems diagram, and an assessment of potential leverage points that address the issue in question. First drafts of the story, stakeholder analysis, and systems diagram will be due over the course of the semester. The final draft of this project, which will incorporate instructor/TA feedback as well as the leverage points section, will be due at the end of the semester. More details for each submission will be provided at the first residency.