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Critical Scholarship for Social Justice in Higher Ed Through Student-Run Journal


Students are leading the way at the peer-reviewed, open access, student-run Journal of Critical Scholarship on Higher Education and Student Affairs (JCSHESA), showing that there can be a different, more accessible approach scholarly publications. Said Sydney Curtis, doctoral candidate in the School of Education and editor of JCSHESA, “we are intentionally different in content and process in a way that is integral to who Loyola is, while remaining successful by any objective standards of prominence—submissions, downloads, and other key metrics.”

Two bedrock Jesuit values that inform so much of what goes on at Loyola, and in turn, the journal, are a focus on social justice and cura personalis. The JSCHESA skillfully encompasses both as it goes about fulfilling its mission of providing actionable scholarship that can affect meaningful change in higher education. “Each and every work we publish is aimed at the interrogation of power, privilege, and oppression in higher education and student affairs,” said Curtis. “Higher education is a microcosm of society. Whatever is going on socio-politically is going to be impacting higher education, so we want to interrogate those things, and are interested in pieces that not only do that, but also have a distinct call to action that can be immediately applied.” Making changes to be more socially just is a conviction you can’t distinguish from Loyola as an institution, because scholarship for social good is so integral to both missions.

Another hallmark of Jesuit education, cura personalis or “care for the whole person,” is a concept not found in the cutthroat world of academic publishing.  JCSHESA takes the time to put more seats around the table and provide guidance for authors who are pulling up a chair. “Our process is inextricably linked to content and theory,” continued Curtis. “That’s how you get at praxis. How can we be a critical journal interrogating power and replicate those very power structures within our journal?” At JCSHESA, all submission and authors are treated with developmental care. Whether tenured and established or up-and-coming, anyone who submits to the journal is regarded as having something powerful to say. “We give detailed, thoughtful, kindly worded feedback at every turn.” JCSHESA also offers open review, allowing for a level of collaboration and transparency uncommon to academic publishing.

In 2019, Curtis expanded the editorial board of JCSHESA and opened up positions to students outside of Loyola to help ensure the sustainability of the journal and received dozens of applications, a testament to its broad appeal. This decentralized structure broadens the journal’s reach even further, with senior scholars in their fields eager to participate, along with practitioners and community organizers, to ensure that the journal stays true to its commitment to deep scholarship and its desire to be a thought leader both in and outside of academia. Even as the journal leadership has expanded to include graduate students from across the United States, the editorial board and peer reviewers still adhere to the same ethic of care.  And, most importantly, the journal will remain open access, so that anyone with internet access can read the papers.  “If scholarship is supposed to change policy and practice, it needs to be available to all. People might not be in the academy but have much to contribute. We aren’t better than anyone existing outside the ivory tower, so we shouldn’t block off access through a paywall,” said Curtis. JCSHESA also produces Research-in-Brief—videos, abbreviated articles, or behind-the-scenes author interviews that increase the accessibility and transparency of both the publication process and the published content.   

So what motivates someone already busy with a full-time job and doctorate-level classwork to take on a grueling side hustle like editing a prominent journal of scholarship? “If I didn’t do it, then who?” Curtis asked. “I’m drawn to the notion of stepping up. When the baton’s being passed to me, I grab it and run. Especially when it’s something like the journal, that has always been peer led and, for the last four years, Black student led. I wasn’t going to let that ball drop.” Curtis has done far more than just keep the ball in play, expanding the editorial board nationwide, curating a special issue, and working with the dean to restructure the budget to allow for an honorarium for future editors. “I look at it as part and parcel of what we stand for. We’re critical of what we care about deeply, and I care deeply about the School of Education. It’s an unfortunate norm for grad students not to be paid for their labor, and that needs to change. I’m proud of the start the journal has made with the honorarium, and I’m even more proud of how it is set to be sustainable for years to come. The scholarship we support is too important for it not to be. I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

For more information about JCSHESA and to read back issues, go to Journal of Critical Scholarship on Higher Education and Student Affairs and follow their socials

Twitter: @JCSHESA

Facebook: facebook.com/JCSHESA

Instagram: @JCSHESA