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ASU celebrates new School of Social Transformation

October 07, 2009

"Social transformation involves changes in social structures and power relations on the one hand, and the alterations in the consciousness, values, capabilities, choices and lives of individuals on the other," quoted Mary Margaret Fonow, founding director of the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University during the during the school’s launch ceremony Oct. 7.

Fonow, a professor of women and gender studies in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, attributed that description of social transformation to researcher Rakesh Kapoor. Completing his explanation, Fonow said: "Transformed individuals become key actors in bringing about social change. Transformed societies enable and nurture more conscious, sensitive and empowered individuals."

ASU President Michael Crow thanked the assembled group at the ceremony for their willingness as a faculty and intellectual community to be innovative in thought about complex academic and intellectual pursuits.

He talked about the basic idea of social transformation that was undertaken by the founders of our republic.

"They were the accumulated thinking at the time; they were the scholars," Crow said, adding "we're a long way from being done.

"To get to where we ultimately want to go ... we have to see people engaging on the most important transformative agendas for social change and social advance. For us to fuel that, it's our role as academics to do things that nobody else can do quite like we can," he said.

First and foremost, according to Crow, the mission "is to educate; to create a teaching and learning environment where any topic can be discussed, (where) all topics can be openly and freely analyzed. That's our No. 1 mission; and to produce people who are educated and have understanding, and who can throw away the culture and social limits of the past and begin thinking about the way in which the world might be structured in the future."

Another role for the new school is to create an environment for learning about social transformation across the entire university.

Also, he said, "we need more intellectual feedstock into the broader community of new findings, new ideas, new theories, new ways to conceptualize."

Pledging the commitment of the university administration, Crow said their hope for the new school is for it to be "fantastically successful, fantastically well-regarded and to produce catalysts for continued social transformation in this country."

According to Fonow, the focus of the new school "is on the creation of transformational knowledge that will allow us to envision the future and achieve change that is democratic, inclusive and just."

The School of Social Transformation was established last year through action by the Arizona Board of Regents. It combines four previous academic units: African and African-American Studies, Asian Pacific American Studies, the School of Justice and Social Inquiry, and women and gender studies.

Within the school are 42 faculty representing a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities and various interdisciplinary fields. They are organized into four faculties, each with a faculty head: Stanlie James (African and African-American studies), Kathryn Nakagawa (Asian Pacific American studies), Marjorie Zatz (justice and social inquiry) and Fonow (women and gender studies).

Also speaking at the ceremony were Quentin Wheeler, ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Linda Lederman, dean of social sciences.

"The tempo and modes of social change have never been so rapid or so diverse; nor have we faced so many sources of friction, whether from differences in culture, race, gender, nationality, religion, beliefs or advances in science and technology," Wheeler said.

"The scholars in the new school have a tall order: to recognize, celebrate and embrace the full diversity found in human societies, while at the same time, pursuing a higher purpose to discover those attributes that make us truly human."

Lederman acknowledged the enormous work that the exploratory committee of builders and designers did in establishing the new school.

"What most impressed me about the leadership of this new school is how four people came together and modeled transformational leadership. They worked together to create something that would never have been created by only one," Lederman said.

Other events to celebrate the new school are planned throughout the year, including the Feldt/Barbanell Women of the World Lecture on Oct. 13 and the Seeking Justice in Arizona Lecture on Oct. 14. Additional information about those events and the School of Social Transformation is online at or at (480) 965-2358.