Photograph by Sarah Weaver
In our world today, it is important to have an understanding of the systems that are at the foundation of our country, affecting the lives of many. At Berkeley High School (BHS) in particular, many students want to be aware of what’s happening in the world and learn about criminal justice and legal systems. For these students, the Law and Social Justice elective, open to BHS juniors and seniors, is an opportunity to get an in depth look at these systems and discuss the multitude of perspectives that surround them.
“Students examine these subjects through the lens of how the race and socioeconomic status of a person impacts the justice they do, or do not, receive,” explained James Dopman, the teacher of the class.
In this class students have the opportunity to talk with experts on social justice and legal issues as well as with those who have had experiences within the criminal justice system. Many students taking the Law and Social Justice have found it to be a very impactful and valuable learning experience.
“This class has allowed me to see the issues that I am passionate about from multiple perspectives and has taught me how to justify my beliefs while being empathetic of opposing arguments,” said Cole Huster, a BHS junior.
This class is an eye opener in terms of social justice. “I have gained insight on all aspects of the justice system and I have gained the skill of looking differently at all things,” said Gemma Morales, a BHS senior. “It’s thrilling and pushes you to think outside the box, it challenges and can even change your beliefs,” she added.
Throughout the course of the school year, the students have had the opportunity ride in patrol cars, visit the Berkeley Police Department and Berkeley Law, and ask questions of legal professionals and even investigators from the special victims unit.
Later this year students will also be taking a field trip to San Quentin state prison and interviewing prisoners. This kind of up-close learning is very unique, and for some students, it has changed the way they think about the criminal justice system. “Being able to hear [the stories of inmates at San Quentin] and how they got into the system is one of the most life changing experiences ever. It opens your ideas to the reality that many people shy away from,” said Morales. The class aims to teach students the ways in which they can respond constructively to political tumult and confusion.
“This class teaches students that there is nuance between being correctly outraged at the lack of justice for many people of color and poor people in society. But it also emphasizes that there are reform minded men and women who are cops, lawyers, and judges trying to make the system better,” Dopman said.