University of Massachusetts Amherst

Search Google Appliance


Featured Courses on Race, Diversity & Social Justice

At the core of Legal Studies is understanding the ways that law can be used to create and reinforce inequalities while also being a powerful force to ameliorate them.  From the introductory course to our upper division electives, our faculty teach a wide variety of courses focusing on race, ethnicity, racism, inequality, social justice, and related issues.  We also offer a Letter of Specialization in "Law and Social Justice."  We encourage you to consider incorporating courses on these important topics as you make your way through the Legal Studies major!

  • LEGAL 250: Introduction to Legal Studies - Paul Collins, Alan Gaitenby, Lauren McCarthy, Doug Rice
  • LEGAL 253: Race, Citizenship, and the US Constitution - Rebecca Hamlin
  • LEGAL 297LL: Law, Literature and History of the 19th c. United States - Marissa Carrere
  • LEGAL 360: Civil Liberties in Wartime - Doug Rice
  • LEGAL 361: Law and Public Policy - Doug Rice
  • LEGAL 368: Alternative Dispute Resolution - Leah Wing
  • LEGAL 373: Justice in Diverse Democracies - Rebecca Hamlin
  • LEGAL 375: Human Rights and Wrongs - Jamie Rowen
  • LEGAL 394: Law, Crime, and Society - Jamie Rowen
  • LEGAL 394AI: Law and Social Activism - Paul Collins
  • LEGAL 397 BD: Machine Bias & the Law - Doug Rice
  • LEGAL 397EQ: Law and Inequality - Tania DoCarmo
  • LEGAL 397K: Human Trafficking - Tania DoCarmo
  • LEGAL 397TL: Globalization and the Law - Tania DoCarmo
  • LEGAL 432: Environmental Justice - Leah Wing
  • LEGAL 482: The Irish Peace Process - Leah Wing
  • LEGAL 484: The Irish Peace Process: After the Good Friday Agreement -  Leah Wing
  • LEGAL 494DI: Environmental and Public Policy Dispute Resolution - Leah Wing

LEGAL 250: Introduction to Legal Studies
Paul Collins, Alan Gaitenby, Lauren McCarthy, Doug Rice

Law is traditionally studied vocationally. That is, students of the law often learn about it strategically, in order to eventually write legislation, advocate for a client, or decide cases. In this Gen Ed course, students will be introduced to a different way of studying law, one rooted in the interdisciplinary field of legal studies (sometimes known as “law and society”) that draws on knowledge, methodologies and critical theories from several SB disciplines.  Rather than studying law as an enterprise that operates autonomously, this course introduces students to the study of law as an object that cannot be understood apart from the social, political, and cultural contexts in which it exists.  As a DU course, some of the contexts considered are race and ethnicity, social class, gender, sexual orientation, and nationality.  With these goals in mind, this course will explore how law permeates human life and, conversely, how human life permeates law.  The course has units that explore the following questions: What is law? How are legal decisions made?  What is law’s relationship to society?  How are laws enforced?  Can law change society?  How is law represented in popular culture?

LEGAL 253: Race, Citizenship, and the US Constitution
Rebecca Hamlin

This course examines the role that law and courts, specifically the U.S. Supreme Court, have played in shaping, defining, and constructing the concepts of race and American citizenship over time. We will explore topics such as the legal definition of whiteness, racial restrictions in immigration and citizenship law, the 14th Amendment’s expansion of citizenship to include former slaves, the legal rights of non-citizens, the ambiguous racial and citizenship status of Native Americans, and the significance of the enduring belief in a colorblind Constitution. The course is designed to help equip students to analyze contemporary developments in the politics of race and immigration by giving them a sense of the history behind key concepts and debates. Click here for the syllabus

LEGAL 297LL: Law, Literature and History of the 19th c. United States
Marissa Carrere

This course begins with an exploration of the “and” in “law and literature.” What are the possibilities—and boundaries—when mapping the relationship between legal and literary texts? How does law influence literature, and how has literature shaped or even resisted law? With these questions in mind, we’ll move into the study of 19th century U.S. literary texts representing a wide range of perspectives. We’ll explore how these texts interact with a myriad of sociolegal concerns issues of their time, including labor exploitation, coverture, suffrage, slavery, incarceration, “obscenity," censorship, homosexuality, contraception, immigration, segregation, colonialism, assimilationist education, citizenship, nation-making, territorial expansion, land privatization, and the development of forensics.

LEGAL 360: Civil Liberties in Wartime
Doug Rice

This course will begin by looking at the loss of civil liberties during World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. With the benefit of hindsight, we will analyze the current conditions including USA Patriot Act, military commissions, and secret deportation hearings.

LEGAL 361: Law and Public Policy
Doug Rice

This course is an upper-level undergraduate course that begins from the premise that what courts do or fail to do matters for public policy.  Our focus will be on examining the complexity of the law and of the policy process, and the role of courts in the policy process. Of primary interest is how and when courts shape civil rights, with time in the course spent on the role of courts on desegregation, redistricting, LGBTQ+ rights, and a host of other policy areas. 

LEGAL 368: Alternative Dispute Resolution
Leah Wing

This course explores the historical origins of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in immigrant, religious, and indigenous communities in the U.S. and its development over the past 300 years. Why have advocates in the legal, commercial, labor, educational, and community sectors promoted its use? What has their impact been on the various forms of ADR? Whose interests are served by ADR? A critical analysis of mediation, arbitration, negotiation, and online dispute resolution in comparison to the judicial system include attention to how issues of power imbalances and identity impact ADR. We will also briefly explore international dispute resolution and consider its similarities and differences to ADR in this country.

LEGAL 373: Justice in Diverse Democracies
Rebecca Hamlin

This seminar introduces students to some of the big normative questions in contemporary democratic theory. For example, what do justice and equality look like in a diverse democracy? What should participation, inclusion, and representation look like when they take difference into account? How are concepts like citizenship and membership affected by immigration and identity politics? What role do law, legal institutions, and legal statuses play in defining democracy, citizenship, justice? Readings include works of political and legal theory as well as contemporary case studies, often drawn from the headlines. Click here for the syllabus

LEGAL 375: Human Rights and Wrongs
Jamie Rowen

This course is an introduction to the concepts, laws, and debates surrounding the international human rights system. In the first part of the course, we look at where the idea of human rights came from and how those ideas turned into an international system to uphold them. We examine the impacts of colonialism and racial injustice in the formation of the human rights regime. We then turn to some of the difficulties that a commitment to human rights creates. How are they enforced in practice? Do states actually follow the human rights agreements that they sign? And more fundamentally, who is included and excluded in the international human rights system? In the third section of the course, we explore responses to human rights violations in domestic, foreign, and international settings.

LEGAL 394: Law, Crime, & Society
Jamie Rowen

Law, Crime, & Society is an integrative experience course that shows how theory has informed our criminal justice policy and the ways that theory still relates to the world beyond the classroom. Each week, we learn about the social and political context each theorist wrote about, do a close reading of our texts, and apply the theories we study to real-world legal and policy issues. The purpose is to show students how to employ abstract concepts as tools for explaining contemporary law and policy. Students gain a working knowledge of ideas that have shaped understandings of crime and criminal justice for generations, from social contract theory to intersectionality. During class, we apply these theories to contemporary issues such as international crime, reproductive justice, policing, and mass incarceration. Students learn how to draw on theoretical perspectives as they engage in legal analysis and writing.

LEGAL 394AI: Law and Social Activism 
Paul Collins

The purpose of this integrative experience course is to explore the relationship between law and social activism. To do this, we will examine how social movements and interest groups use the legal system to influence change and mobilize support for their causes. Because the study of social movements implicates a diverse array of perspectives, we will interrogate this topic from an interdisciplinary lens. We will devote special attention to issues of social justice; group formation and maintenance; how groups use the legal system in an attempt to influence public policy; legal strategies; the effectiveness and limits of litigation; and the role played by lawyers in using the courts to pursue social change. We will investigate these topics in the context of social movements related to civil rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights, the Second Amendment, and others. This course will provide you with a new way of thinking about the law, based on how a wide range of social science disciplines approach the study of law and social activism. In addition, you will learn how to understand and critique legal studies research, and hone your writing skills through the development of your own research papers. Click here for the syllabus

LEGAL 397BD: Machine Bias & the Law
Doug Rice

In this course,  we explore the political, legal, and social implications of Big Data, artificial intelligence, and the increasing reliance on automated, machine learning algorithms across many different decision-making contexts.  Our exploration will center on the ways in which algorithmic decision-making propagates and reinforces bias, and the insufficiency of current legal and political governance to address the problems introduced by the algorithmic approaches. Then, we discuss reforms --- in law, politics, and artificial intelligence --- that might better help these tools realize their promise while avoiding their pitfalls.

LEGAL 397EQ: Law and Inequality
Tania DoCarmo

This course examines the persistence of inequality based on race, class, gender and/or citizenship as it relates to law, both in the U.S. and internationally. We will examine the legal system from a critical perspective, incorporating material from law, history, sociology, and other disciplines. We will map some of the ways legal regimes and concepts contribute to the production, recognition and maintenance of power hierarchies, exploring and discussing questions such as: how and why the legal system has historically favored the rich and discriminated against the poor, nonwhites, women and immigrants; as well as the extent to which the legal system can be used to achieve social change.

LEGAL 397K: Human Trafficking
Tania DoCarmo

This course introduces students to human trafficking through the lens of the social sciences, including its historical, legal, economic, political and social contexts in the United States and internationally. In addition to identifying the documented scope, extent and nature of trafficking, we examine its recent social construction, key counter-trafficking legislation, modern cases and debates. We discuss theories related to its cause, its relation to migration, gender, inequality and globalization more broadly, and the role of governments, organizations and institutions in local and global counter-trafficking efforts. Click here for the syllabus

LEGAL 397TL: Globalization and the Law
Tania DoCarmo

How do global processes give rise to legal change? Globalization is changing the contours of law and creating new global institutions and norms. This course takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying globalization, its relation to law, its relation to global inequality, and the economic, cultural and political changes that result. Course material will explore the legal legacies of colonialism, competing arguments about the creation, politics and impacts of international law, the diffusion and impact of norms such as women’s rights and environmental protections, and the role of international institutions such as the United Nations. Click here for the syllabus

LEGAL 432: Environmental Justice
Leah Wing

This course provides an exploration of the environmental justice (EJ) movement. Central to our study is an examination of environmental degradation, inequality in exposure to pollution in relationship to racism and poverty, and globalization's effect on international environmental injustices. We critically analyze the role of grassroots activism, the law, and alternative dispute resolution methods used to redress environmental injustices. Coursework relies on relevant interdisciplinary scholarship, case studies, and engaged in-class simulations.

LEGAL 482: The Irish Peace Process
Leah Wing

This course will examine the complex origins and manifestations of the conflict and peace on the island of Ireland with a concentration on the north of Ireland/Northern Ireland between 1969 and the present. We will explore the enduring elements of this protracted conflict and the multiple avenues through which peace and justice have been constructed. The mediation process which resulted in the 1998 Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement) will be examined in depth from the perspective of the parties as well as the mediator. We will explore the present day challenges to reconstruct an economy, create a shared future and deal with the legacy of the past in the wake of decades of violence and in the context of a newly implemented powersharing government. 'Post-conflict' conflict transformation at the `coalface' as well as in the social fabric and governmental structures will be the focus of the latter part of the semester.

LEGAL 484: The Irish Peace Process: After the Good Friday Agreement
Leah Wing

The course examines implementation of the peace process and co-constructing a shared future of equals when the past and future remain heavily contested. Efforts to address the conflict's legacy are explored in the legal, political, and social arenas including truth recovery, reconciliation, urban regeneration, policing, language revival, and public art.

LEGAL 494DI: Environmental and Public Policy Dispute Resolution
Leah Wing

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has played an increasingly important role in addressing environmental and public policy disputes over the past three decades in the United States. How has ADR enhanced democratic participation in decision making on crucial environmental issues? How have the judicial and administrative branches of government used ADR in disputes over environmental issues of public import? How has ADR impacted the environmental claims made against the U.S. government by indigenous peoples? What ADR methods have been utilized to foster collaboration in areas of public controversy involving environmental toxins, health care, land use, disaster response, and reparations? How is technology impacting the nature of public disputing? We will explore questions such as these in this study of environmental and public policy dispute resolution (EPPDR). This advanced Legal Studies course is based in a socio-legal inquiry into leading questions facing scholars and practitioners, as well as a public who daily face the consequences of environmental and public policy disputes. Multiple worldviews about intervening in EPP disputes will be explored with particular attention to indigenous perspectives and the challenge for intervenors in handling tribal-U.S. government conflicts. In addition, the course will offer the opportunity to examine critiques of EPPDR and students will undertake critical analyses of justice concerns with regards to public dispute intervention to formulate their own views about the allegations that EPPDR fosters collaboration to the detriment of some and the privileging of others.