Human Asset Maps: Encouraging Social Justice Work in my Students

Human Asset Maps: Encouraging Social Justice Work in my Students

Many of my students get furious in my courses. The subjects that I teach – American Indian histories, the histories of gender and sexuality, histories of race and ethnicity – demonstrate just how much of their history has been kept from them, and how ruthlessly power structures seek to replicate themselves. There’s a fair bit of guilt on the part of those students who hold privilege of one kind or another, and there’s a lot of anger at systems of oppression. There comes a tipping point in every term where my students don’t just want to learn about these processes, but want to do something to change the systems that surround them. They often feel lost at this point – where to even begin? And that’s when I have them make asset maps.

Asset maps are traditionally done by community organizations (be those organizations generated by community members, or organizations coming from outside the community). They’re an opportunity for organizers to take stock of all the resources that a community already holds in tangible and intangible ways – so playgrounds and of houses of faith might be resources, for example, but so might community members of a certain demographic, or the knowledge that the community typically generates x number of letters to Congress in a given year. All of these resources are, wherever possible, mapped onto a physical map of the area. It’s a starting point from which activism and allyship can begin.

I have my students do a similar thing, but about themselves. I distribute a line drawing of a human body and ask them what resources they have that they can map onto the page. Can they use Word or Google docs? Do they type fast? Can they wield a hammer or a picket sign? Do they find it easy to walk distances or stand for a long period of time? What education do they have that’s applicable to the situation at hand?

Human Asset Map
One of my own asset maps

The map itself doesn’t tell students what to do, but it helps them realize for themselves the talents and skills they possess that they can put to work for other people. It gives them greater confidence in their abilities – a sense that they have something concrete to offer – and from there they can search out organizations that need the assets they have.

It’s a great conversation starter, and a great opportunity to reframe social justice as something with which everyone can get involved, instead of something that only people with swathes of time, energy, and money can do.

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