Cities and Suburbs: Advocacy and Writing for Social and Ecological Justice

Fall 2018
Class Size: 23
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

creative writing, sustainability, public policy
poetry and literary arts, community studies/Middle East studies, journalism


Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” –the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Racial, ethnic and class inequities are foundational to the founding and development of this country, and continue to fester in our neighborhoods. Far-reaching and systemic disparities, many built by continuing inequities in housing laws and policies, preclude equitable access to education, citizen engagement, healthy food, and environmental safety. In this one-quarter program with the option of 8 or 12 credits, we will explore questions such as what historical and contemporary patterns in the U.S. have created and perpetuated inequity in housing and neighborhoods? How have urban and suburban development and migration changed, and why it matters? How have literature – specifically poetry and spoken word, as well as other forms of literary arts – been used to document and raise awareness on inequity and how are they used today to foster change? What do we need to know and do to create more equitable and livable communities?

Like many burgeoning cities, the Thurston County area is experiencing unprecedented growth that will increase population 37.5 percent by 2040, according to the Thurston Regional Planning Council. Part of this program will focus on Olympia’s “Missing Middle Housing” initiative as a case study.  The emphasis is to develop a wider array of affordable housing downtown, and close to the city core, by changing zoning and addressing other laws and practices.  The aim is a balance of market rate and low-income housing. The initial framework has critics and supporters, as well as space for public engagement. We will also focus on the city’s plan for addressing homelessness, while working with all stakeholders—including the homeless, businesses, service providers, local artists, and residents who use downtown. Students will hear from a variety of policy makers, artists, and community members who are contributing research and working toward collaborative efforts in our community to achieve more equitable housing. We will deepen knowledge of how accessible housing can transform access to education and quality of life. We will examine the history of systemic inequities in cities and suburbs, and consider complex solutions. To do this, we will research and see first-hand how homelessness, food deserts, and needed service gaps are deepening.

 Students selecting the 12-credit option will have four Saturdays for a justice walking tour of downtown Olympia, and additional hands-on projects and work. Our focus will be initiatives for addressing homelessness and widening the “missing middle of housing,” as well as other ways to bring equity and social justice to housing. Additional online readings will be available for the 12-credit section.

By the end of the program, students will have developed a historical overview of housing-related poverty, segregation, homelessness, and service deprivation. They will also develop a foundation in researching successful best practices that address these complex problems rooted to housing. Students will gain skills in research, academic writing, creative writing, community planning, and advocacy.

Required texts will include Building Suburbia, Dolores Hayden; The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,by Richard Rothstein; and Fire and Ink: Anthology of Social Action Writing.  Additional readings will be added by July.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

Public policy, urban planning, nonprofit management, advocacy, education, communications, community-based arts.


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Hybrid Online Learning - This offering delivers < 25% of its instruction online, rather than via face-to-face contact between you and your instructors.
Class Standing: Sophomore–Senior
Class Size: 23

Scheduled for: Evening

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Monday, September 24, 2018 - 6:00 pm
Purce Hall 5 - Classroom

Advertised schedule:

8 credit students: Mondays and Wednesdays 6 to 9:30 p.m. Also, one Thursday evening fall quarter from 6-9 p.m. for a community poetry event (this event is strongly encouraged, however, an alternate assignment will available for those who cannot attend).

12 credit students: Schedule above plus 4 additional Saturdays 10am-5pm (October 6th, October 20th, November 3rd and December 1st).

Located in: Olympia

2018-06-0112 credit option now available
2018-05-02Title updated (new information after colon), and additional description detail added.