Tag Archives: university

Teaching for and about social justice in sport sociology and physical education (report from BSA Sport Study Group workshop)

On 23rd February 2018 I led a workshop at the BSA Sport Study Group’s teaching sport sociology day at the University of Northampton. My workshop was on teaching for and about social justice in sport sociology. Here’s an overview of some of the things we discussed…

My motivation in presenting this workshop was to continue some of the work my social justice research group has been doing in physical education and sport pedagogy circles, but broadening it out to other areas of sport education, like sport sociology. In this field, it is more common to have a sociocultural perspective than it is in teacher education, purely because that is the main subject content. However, a sociocultural perspective or subject area doesn’t necessarily mean a socially just or critical perspective. So, questions that we have posed in the social justice project with teacher educators, concerning how they came to know about sociocultural issues and how/if they have developed their knowledge, are still relevant in this other field.

I went into the workshop kind of with an assumption: that equity, diversity and justice are generally good things that we should work to further in our higher education environments, for the success of our students and for the people they may work with in the future as teachers, coaches, health practitioners, sport developers, managers.

I asked the group, firstly, how they would define social justice. Here are two (poor!) images of their responses:


There are a range of responses here:

Equality, fairness, inclusion, redistribution, asking questions, challenging inequalities, addressing failures, the process toward achieving change

One is slightly cynical if I may say so:

‘[social justice is] a phrase I hear bandied about’

I would say that is true! It might be a phrase that we hear lots of without fully knowing what it is supposed to refer to. Yet, it does indeed refer to a number of things, depending on the perspective of the writer, and this nebulous meaning has been discussed in the literature and in my research group’s forthcoming paper Hill et al. ‘Conceptualising social justice and sociocultural issues’.

I then asked the group to discuss a couple of questions to understand their previous experiences of learning about social justice, equity or diversity. In my research with physical education teacher educators (forthcoming), three ways of developing knowledge came up: formal education (e.g. learning about equality issues on your degree programme), personal experience (e.g. having experience of being marginalised), and professional experience (e.g. being in a job supporting marginalised students). At this workshop, I asked participants to use Padlet to share their discussion points. Padlet is an online pinboard that allows users to post text or links and then make comments on them. The Padlet is here to view. Some answers to the question concerning how they learnt to teach about social justice issues were:

‘it is rarely discussed in teaching and learning qualifications’

‘…through osmosis…’

‘no formal learning experiences’

‘through trial and error’

These are useful answers to reflect on, because amongst a group of sociologically-trained researchers, education for teaching about social issues and justice seems rare (I think this mirrors concerns across academia that the training for an academic job does not train us for the realities of teaching, project management, service work and so on).

Then participants shared what they need in order to learn more or to be able to include more social justice in their teaching. Again they responded using Padlet and there was a distinct request for case studies, resources or examples of how others have done it. This aligns with the observation above that formal learning opportunities rarely include how to teach about/for social justice. Although most sport sociologists will be aware of and use theoretical frames around equity, justice, social issues and so on in their research, ways to teach these concepts are not learnt, and so we might find ourselves trying something and using reflection to make improvements. Life experiences – whether our own or our students – are an important starting point for bringing social issues to life.

This idea was raised throughout the day by other presenters and attendees. Mark Doidge noted that one reason for running the workshop was to provide a space for sociologists – who may be isolated in sport science departments – to share teaching concerns. Many of us have diverse student groups who will enter diverse sport settings, so there is high relevance for sociological thinking about the situations we face; Ian Jones pointed out that critical thinking about sport’s benefits, and the impact of sporting events on athletes and citizens displaced by stadium building projects, should be vital for sports students. However, sociologists may be contradicting the messages that students get on other parts of their degree and so sociology may be easily invalidated; we should think then about how race, gender, class and other social issues can be embedded across different aspects of the course, not single lectures (reflection made during Kevin Hylton’s presentation).


My research on this area is ongoing and this workshop has been helpful for me in solidifying some ideas about where to go next. Anyone interested in participating in future stages of self-study and action research can email me for details: joanne.hill@beds.ac.uk.

The Padlet remains open access for any further reflections, links or examples to be added.


Social justice in teaching and the value of caring

There are many nice things about doing research with other people but one of the best things about being part of a group is the possibility of reflecting on your progress and sharing the responses you have to what participants tell you.

I was doing just this one evening last week, 16th June 2016, as a member of my research group had shared how her students had responded to her telling them about an incident or a turn in her own life and experiences.

We are researching the place of social justice and socio-cultural issues in Physical Education Teacher Education programmes. I am in my share of the data generation phase in universities mainly in the UK at the moment (it’s an international project covering the USA and NZ as well). I replied to my research group to appreciate the story that had been shared and to express what value there is in doing work on social justice: it can be hard but energising – vital maybe. I said that a recent interview participant of mine had said something on these lines recently: we teach social justice because we just have to … it is about fairness in all aspects of life, not just in sport or physical education but because those fields feed into and from all our social worlds. Because we care and want a better world.

We were reflecting at the time on the aftermath of the Orlando shooting in the USA so our thoughts were geared towards how we can respond to these events and the hate that caused them in our teaching and research about social justice. I had also seen the news that day that MP Jo Cox had been attacked and was in hospital.

It’s not just an abstract concept, social justice; we are dealing with real lives and events, not political correctness. The personal stories make all the difference.

After I sent the email, I looked at the news and learnt that Jo Cox had died as a result of her injuries. The email conversation then seemed to mean so much more to me.

There are not always opportunities to tell our students we care nor might we often demonstrate it (emotional labour being something that might be sidelined in neoliberal academic practice) but one of the elements of teaching social justice and socio-cultural issues must be being a socially just and caring teacher. Addressing the ‘isms’ in education (Dodds, 1993) gets more complex all the time: no longer just sexism, racism and ablism but homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia affect teaching and learning in physical education, and then I can’t forget teaching about privilege: class, racial and male privilege, also British citizenship privilege and English speaking privilege seem important now.

I support the things Jo Cox stood for and worked hard for, though I didn’t know of her before 16th June. I am also REMAIN for the EU referendum. I have read so many powerful arguments for remaining over the last few days and cannot articulate it as well, so in brief. We are better as a part of the EU for our environment, our universities, our rights and because being part of something larger – not turning away from others – is important. Being in the EU isn’t just about immigration and refugees, but a lot of the words being expended around the referendum have been about those topics. While anyone’s individual vote to leave might not be xenophobic, that is what the leave campaign has been built on. Leave proposes a Britain that is insular and right wing (also, they aren’t going to spend any saved money on the NHS). I vote remain to say that the type of country I want is one that welcomes, connects, cares and works with other people across difference because this is part of social justice work to me.

Dodds, P. (1993). Removing the ugly ‘isms’ in your gym: Thoughts for teachers on equity. In Evans, J. (ed.) Equality, education and physical education, 28-39. London: Falmer Press

Dealing with hostility to progressive ideas in the classroom

This is the script of a talk I gave at an “Everyday Sexism” event at Loughborough University, 1st May, 2013

How can we deal with hostility to progressive theories when teaching and studying gender equality?

I am going to be talking about sexism in the classroom. The thoughts I’d like to share are specifically about how we teach and study such things as equality, feminism, and progressive ideas – where they come up in our modules, whether in social sciences, politics, arts… I am a teaching fellow in Sport and one of the things I teach is gender equality in sports and physical education.

My journey towards being an academic began when I got my Masters degree in Gender Studies. Among my fellow students, we all “got it” – we understood gender inequality, we identified it, analysed it, and denounced it.
This was a positive space to be a student of progressive ideas. I hope that there are many of you in this room today, whether you study gender inequality or just talk about it, who have spaces where you can identify and talk about gender inequality with people who “get it” just like you.

As I have become a university teacher however, I have come to recognise that sometimes progressive ideas are not the norm in the spaces in which we study and teach. Not everyone has had exposure to progressive ideas, not everyone understands gender inequality or denounces it. I’m going to give a few examples that colleagues of mine at other universities have told me, when they have tried to teach gender inequality, feminist ideas or just raise issues of sexism, in their classrooms.

The first thing I would like to say is that my feminism is intersectional. What that means is that I believe that our gender identities and experiences cannot be separated from our experiences of, for instance, sexuality, ethnicity or body size. So I am not just going to talk about sexism as affecting women, but as intersecting with how people are treated for their sexuality or their body size, for instance.

Sometimes there is passive hostility, such as when beginning a lecture by saying “I’m going to be talking from a feminist perspective” – and some students groan and bang their heads on the desk.

Sometimes there is disbelief, one lecturer in management told me. Women students have remarked to her that if women don’t like to be harassed in the workplace then they should just leave their jobs. “Being groped in the office is normal”. “If an office affair is found out, the woman should be sacked but the man should keep his job, because she enticed him”, some students said.

Sometimes there is a hint of evolutionary psychology. “Boys will be boys”, I hear when I teach inclusion in sports. “Boys are just more competitive than girls, that’s why they shouldn’t play sports together”. Just yesterday I was reading something about how teachers need to use different language when they speak to boys and girls just because of gender difference.

Then there are the times when sexism, or something similar, can be triggering or harmful either to the teacher or a student. A friend of mine who lectures in media, gender and sexuality at another university, gave a lecture on fat activism and health at every size to her students. In the discussion time afterwards, she encountered fat phobia, which she found personally triggering. She asks, how could she negotiate and challenge this fat phobia in her classroom in ways that were safe for herself and for her students?

This is just one perspective on sexism in the classroom. I do not mean to sound like I think that the only problem is with students. Certainly not. I have encountered professors who need to consider the ways in which their language can be exclusionary or plainly sexist. There are many students who have the drive to work to end discrimination and oppression, and many who want to understand it and are learning.

Sometimes there is shock. People sometimes just are unaware that sexism occurs in the everyday world – they have never come across it themselves. To me, sport is a very gendered arena, but some people just don’t see it that way, or they see gender difference as natural and normal. Sometimes it can be a very great hurdle to roll a century or more of knowledge on gender inequality into the type of knowledge that students can make something of in order to get their degree. Everyday sexism, fat phobia, homophobia – these things can affect our classrooms when we try to raise issues of equality, to theorise and analyse the world through a progressive or a feminist lens.

I’d like to offer you next some questions that I have, that I wonder whether we, as a community of teachers and students, might work to answer to find best practice in studying issues of equality.
What responsibilities do lecturers have to educate on sexism and other inequalities? If we choose to do so, what are our responsibilities then?
By teaching and studying inequalities, do we risk creating spaces in the university that are potentially triggering? Spaces where students and staff with personal experience of sexism or fat phobia, say, encounter denial or hostility to their experiences?
Do we need our students to subscribe or to respect progressive ideas?
What strategies can we have to work towards safe, supportive and progressive spaces in our classrooms?
What are the best ways to ensure that the students who “get it” and those who don’t all gain the education they need to get through the course?
And as students, do we have responsibilities to call out our classmates? How can we do so safely?

I’d like to finish by saying that if it were not for studying inequalities at university, I wouldn’t have the feminist knowledge I have today, and I continue to grow through my engagement with the students I teach and the personal knowledge and experience they bring to our discussions of sexism, equality and inclusion in sport. I hope that these are ongoing conversations and I look forward to hearing answers to these questions that I’ve raised.

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