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Social Justice Research Academy

July 10 - July 30, 2022

Applications for 2022 summer programs open on December 1, 2021.

Non-credit program

Non-credit program


Eligibility: Current 9th-11th grade students

International students

International students welcome

Financial Aid

Financial aid for select Philadelphia students

The Social Justice Research Academy brings students from around the world together for three weeks to dive deep into the past, present, and future of social justice. Designed to encourage discussion and critical thinking about the political, historical, and cultural context of inequality and resistance, the program welcomes students with a variety of academic interests across the social sciences, humanities, and arts. Topics vary from year to year but include a selection of significant historical struggles (the American Revolution, slavery and abolition, suffrage, labor, civil rights) as well as those that define our recent past and present (climate change, immigration and refugee/asylum policy, LGBTQ rights, #BlackLivesMatter, disability studies, faith and social justice, interfaith leadership, intersectionality, affordable housing, prison reform, #MeToo, food deserts, social distancing as a privilege, access to health care, textbooks and curricular biases, anti-racism, anti-Semitism, music and civil rights, international human rights, race and popular culture). As they explore the characteristics of effective community leadership and successful movement-building, students develop leadership skills as well as research and analytical skills.

If you attend a School District of Philadelphia public or charter high school, you may be eligible to attend a Penn Summer Academy free of charge with a Penn Summer Scholarship.

Get application information »


The Social Justice Research Academy was awarded a Campaign for Community Grant from the Penn Provost’s Office in 2020 to support capstone projects on racial justice, and Alice Chou, a student in the 2020 SJRA, was chosen by the teaching staff for her video production skills to use the funds and make the following video.

If you have a problem seeing this video, you can also watch it on YouTube.


Lectures and workshops: Attend online classes and conversations led by Penn faculty and Teaching Fellows as well as community leaders, political representatives and experts from a range of subjects. Ask questions, debate issues, and participate in lively class discussions as you develop specialized knowledge and leadership skills. Students will have online access to Penn’s Van Pelt Library and other University resources, including the program’s Canvas course website for additional content and homework assignments, and daily Zoom class meetings with teaching staff and guest speakers.

As a result of the transition to an online program this summer, we will have a Monday - Friday schedule geared primarily for different US time zones: 11-5 p.m. EST with a break for lunch. All Zoom class sessions (including large and small group discussion meetings) will be synchronous to help foster a sense of community and engagement, and every session will be recorded. We will strive to make arrangements for international students.

Virtual site visits: Tour historical and cultural landmarks in Philadelphia such as Penn’s Van Pelt Library, Penn Museum, the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall, Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, Chinatown, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Jim Crow Museum, and visits to nonprofit organizations for service-learning activities such as the Mural Arts Program and Philabundance.

Capstone project: Drawing from coursework and your own interests, develop a research question around program themes. Explore the answer to your research question using the University’s world-class resources and guidance from teaching fellows. Capstone projects can take the form of a traditional academic paper or a creative project in the medium of your choosing and could include a project in your own community. Previous capstone projects have included:

  • A paper on Hollywood’s portrayal of Asians in film and subsequent stereotypes
  • A spoken word performance surrounding gun deaths among Black men in Philadelphia
  • A video on redlining
  • A slide show about the reception of American Muslim women who wear a hijab or not
  • A statistical comparison of international human rights laws and violations
  • A graphic novel comparing sex education in China to that in the US
  • An immersive art installation depicting sweatshop conditions
  • A restaurant business plan offering job training for the homeless
  • Police reform
  • How COVID-19 has disproportionately affected minority populations

See this program's 2020 syllabus (PDF).


In the news

Penn's Omnia Magazine covered the 2021 Social Justice Research Academy, highlighting some innovative student projects and Penn teaching fellows who were invited to participate by faculty director, Dr. R. Scott Hanson.

Read an article about Penn Summer student Neelofar Tamboli, and how she expanded the development of her website featuring coronavirus data while in the program.

Read an article from Penn News Today about the 2017 Social Justice Academy class experience.


Penn Summer online system requirements

We recommend that all operating systems, browsers, Flash, and other software be up to date before the start of each online class. Most courses use Canvas for assignments, discussion, and watching video, and synchronous sessions can happen in a variety of platforms. Students will receive all important information before the beginning of class.

See more system requirements >


Program Director: R. Scott Hanson

Program Director: R. Scott Hanson
R. Scott Hanson is a lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches courses in American history on a range of topics. He earned his PhD from the University of Chicago in 2002 and has been at Penn since 2012. Dr. Hanson is also an affiliate of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and the author of City of Gods: Religious Freedom, Immigration, and Pluralism in Flushing, Queens (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016).