Elkhorn Middle School eighth graders are combining social causes with art. 

In Su Sheridan’s art class, the group recently completed a social justice unit. Students completed various artwork that brought attention to large-scale problems like vaping, climate change, sexual assault, gun violence, animal abuse and more. 

“This is the big thing,” Sheridan said, pointing to the classroom’s lesson objectives for the unit. “Artists step out and call out the worst crimes and inequalities with a passion.”

Students chose issues “that they thought weren’t working well,” Sheridian said. Before choosing their topics, students answered the following questions in class: 

  • What is social justice?
  • To what extent does power or the lack of power affect individuals?
  • What are the responsibilities of the individual in regard to issues of social justice?
  • How can art/music serve as a vehicle for social change?
  • When should an individual take a stand against what he/she believes to be an injustice? What are the most effective ways to do this?
  • What are the factors that create an imbalance of power within a culture?
  • What does power have to do with fairness and justice?
  • When is it necessary to question the status quo? Who decides?
  • What are the benefits and consequences of questioning / challenging social order?
  • How do stereotypes influence how we look at and understand the world?

Some students created a piece on their own while others worked with a partner. 

Griffin McElmurray, one of the eighth grade students in the class, said he wanted to bring attention to global warming and the Greenhouse Gas Effect as he believes it‘s a topic that is often overlooked or believed to be false, which risks a huge problem in the future. 

“It’s depicting smokestacks from like a factory and fossil fuel emissions. And it’s showing a fist of us breaking through our atmosphere and destroying it slowly,” Griffin said of his artwork. 

Caroline Blackburn, another student in the class, created a piece that focuses on pollution, a problem that she is very passionate about. She said she recycles and doesn’t litter and tries to encourage others to do the same. 

“Basically, if we are polluting our Earth, we are throwing our Earth away,” Caroline said. 

Sheridan is looking for contests that the pieces could be entered into as part of an effort to highlight the class’ talents.

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