Social Justice at Ivies

Which Ivy league school is the most dedicated to social justice? If passionate about social justice, which Ivy is best for me?


Passion alone isn’t it.

Are you male or female? If female, I would suggest Barnard, which is Ivy-adjacent because it’s part of Columbia, but also its own entity and probably more social justice oriented than any of the Ivies in their own right. Maybe that “doesn’t count” but that’s my best answer :wink: Columbia itself is probably the most social justice-y of the Ivies IMHO.

Brown and Columbia are the most liberal ivies so I would guess those two.

How do we measure (or subjectively assess) social justice at a college?
How do we even define it? Do we focus on institutional policies?
Do we focus on the kinds of students a school tends to attract (or on their activities)?
Count the number of (or attendance at) BLM demonstrations and such?

Washington Monthly publishes a “social mobility” rank, based on how good a school is at recruiting and graduating low-income students. Here’s how the 8 Ivies rank by that metric:
1 Harvard
10 UPenn
11 Princeton
14 Yale
21 Columbia
32 Dartmouth
49 Brown
70 Cornell

It also ranks universities by alumni Peace Corps participation. The results are almost the inverse of the social mobility ranks.
21 Cornell
38 Dartmouth
42 Brown
45 Columbia
87 Yale
109 Princeton
119 UPenn
128 Harvard

In my own opinion, the best way a college contributes to social justice is by discovering and sharing knowledge.That’s what colleges and universities are designed to do. Presumably some universities do a better job than others at high-impact research into social/environmental problems (poverty, opioid addiction, global warming, hydropolitics). Much of that would be done at the graduate level. Dunno if anyone has tried to track that work.

If doing social justice work is the goal, why focus on such a small group of schools? And how you want to do that work may matter too (if you know). If you want to be a lawyer or a doctor to pursue that goal, the choices might be different. If you are interested in community organizing, different again.

Wanting to make the world a more just place is a great objective. Can you tell us more about how you want to do that? It might make any guidance more helpful…

This is probably not a good criterion. I would think most colleges would be good in this area, and every college will have students who are “passionate” about it. Think about size, location, academics, finances and most of all “vibe.” Try to visit. The Ivies are all different, and there are many other wonderful schools.

Why only Ivies, does that mean you won’t goto a non-ivy school or if one is not as dedicated you won’t apply?

Honestly, if you are truly passionate about social justice – why on earth would you be centering your college search around super-elite, mega-selective private colleges?

If you were to use post-college Peace Corps participation as a metric (as suggested in post #5) – then look at this list:

There is not an Ivy to be found on that list in terms of undergrad outcomes (though Columbia ranks in terms of graduate students entering the Peace Corps).

If you looked at student survey data compiled by Princeton Review, you’d also find a relative dearth of Ivy league schools on the lists tied to metrics that would seem to be tied to social justice concerns. Columbia does get a top spot on the “Most Politically Active Students” list, and Brown comes up in spot #20 on the “Most Liberal Students” list, as well as a spot on the “Lots of Race/Class Interaction” list… but beyond that, you see a range of very different schools.

Of course it all depends on what you mean by “social justice”. Are you focused on what the college itself is doing to further social justice? or the strength of specific college departments? or overall attitude of the student bodies?

If you want a campus that is structured around social justice (defined as “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”) – then you might want to focus on public universities.

@tk21769 -

It is not a coincidence that social mobility ranking is the mirror image of the Peace Corp ranking.

The prestige based culture of the Ivies is focused more on improving one’s own social mobility than improving the social mobility of others. Therefore, it steers students toward Wall Street, consulting, and Silicon Valley, rather than the Peace Corps.

In my opinion, the best way that colleges can contribute to social justice is by producing graduates that are well prepared to be successful in careers dedicated to social justice.

Based on this, the Peace Corp ranking is a better proxy than the social mobility ranking - but none of the Ivies even break the top 20.

This makes it hard to recommend any of the Ivies for someone truly passionate about social justice except maybe Cornell.

@Mastadon I agree. It’s hard to tell with a post like this what is really meant by “passionate about social justice.” Obviously I don’t know the OP but sometimes this seems to mean wanting opportunities for virtue signaling from a safe, comfortable setting like going to an afternoon protest then returning to one’s dorm to continue prepping for a career on Wall Street or the tech industry. My niece is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer after spending 4 years in Senegal living in very spartan conditions (including learning to slaughter and eat goats). She graduated from a non-elite CTCL school. She met her husband, another Peace Corps Volunteer, in Senegal and he is a graduate of DePaul. I also agree with @calmom that public universities often provide the most opportunities for significant involvement in social justice causes.

@calmom - The list you provided ranks by absolute number of Peace Corp participants.

The Washington Monthly provides a ranking that normalizes that value by the size of the school. Here is a list of the top 20:

  1. American
  3. WIlliam and Mary
  4. George Washington
  5. Georgetown
  6. Clark
  7. Emory
  8. Tulane
  9. Tufts
  10. U San Diego
  11. U Vermont
  12. U Chicago
  13. Seattle Pacific
  14. U Wisconsin
  15. U Washington Seattle
  16. UNC
  17. U Montana
  18. U Virginia
  19. Howard
  20. UC Santa Cruz

I see the rank-order is a little different – but the end result is the same: no Ivies. Not very many elites.

No one has posted a link to the Washington Monthly list, so I’m not sure of its methodology – but the presence of Tufts & Georgetown also makes me wonder whether the list includes SFS & Fletcher grads. I do think that some Peace Corps volunteers are motivated by a desire to gain experience leading to a foreign service career as much as they are by altruistic concerns. Not that it is wrong in any way to do so - just that Peace Corp volunteerism may or may not reflect level commitment to social justice within a particular university.

Also – there are – or ought to be – students who are committed foremost to social justice at home as well as abroad - but domestic volunteerism or commitment may be harder to gauge – it would be more than just tallying up students who join Americorps or Teach for America – perhaps looking instead at career paths of students. How many end up post-graduation working for social-service based nonprofits, or opt for historically lower-paid careers in teaching or social work?

I notice the OP hasn’t come back to explain what they meant by “passion for social justice”. I do know that if the OP has lived that passion in high school through their work & volunteer activities, there are some very selective colleges, more than others, that will value that commitment highly in making admissions decisions.

Here are some other useful lists, using a community service metric:

The 20 Colleges most committed to Community Service: (USA Today)
(No Ivies but Stanford gets kudos for its commitment of funding & support to community service)

Most Engaged in Community Service (Princeton Review)

I’m not sure entering the Peace Corps is necessarily about “social justice.” It’s a direct action taken to improve others’ lives, but not advocacy or activism, in itself. The kids I know in TfA or who were in City Year are committed to doing what they can. They have their own belief systems that lead them to feel strongly about certain topics, but they aren’t activists, per se. My kids were/are into community service, one did some substantial political campaigning, but I wouldn’t call them advocates for any particular cause(s.)

I think if OP were already into social justice, she would know what her specific iterests or hot buttons are, would have some basis on which to evaluate these colleges on her own. She’d know the sorts of groups that do x and y. She’d be looking at various clubs and activities on campus and from campus into the local communities.

But if if she just thinks SJ is her directon, something she might pick up in college, without having done any of this, she’ll have some trouble presenting herself in a convincing way, to any most-selective college.

And please remember that “most liberal” doesn’t really translate to much. A Brown or Columbia or some granola LAC is still going to have plenty of kids more focused on their own academics and interpersonal life.

But I sure do agree that NYC, the DC area, and some of the poorer or more troubled areas in the US, are great locations for getting deeply involved.

The OP is being a bit epigrammatic, but, it is nevertheless possible to detect the kernel of what he or she is seeking: They want an Ivy League college where the student body is relatively activist, two coordinates that intersect somewhere. I would say, Columbia and Brown are spatially close to each other within the same quadrant. I’d add Wesleyan as a credible LAC equivalent.

Social Justice is not an employable major. In fact the things you learn don’t translate to the working professional world as anything useful or practical. Don’t waste your money on that.

Lol, have you looked at some of the salaries for other than low level starter work? There’s a whole world of non-profits out there. In fact, some MBA programs allow a specialization in not-for-profit.

And SJ can be relevant to all sorts of arenas, including politics.

But if OP is asking about Ivies, she is NOT going to college to train for a specific career. That’s what directional or professional colleges offer.

“Social Justice” is not a major, so rather a dumb comment- unless it was intended to be deliberately ironic. Pre-law is not a major either, but there are probably many students with a social justice leaning who would end up being pre-law – because law is a career that provides opportunities to advocate for & work for social justice.

However, it is very possible for students who are committed to the broader goal of working for the social good to also have a good ROI on their college majors. There is also a website that lists the “Top 25 Universities for Nonprofit and Community Service ranked by Return” (URL blocked but you can Google the title).

Top 5:

  1. Notre Dame
  2. Texas A&M
  3. Tufts
  4. William & Mary
  5. Virginia Polytechnic

I think one reason that I see the question of “which Ivy” for social justice as being somewhat incongruent in terms of goals is simply that I see the whole notion of Ivy elitism as being part of the cultural stratification that undermines social justice. “Which college” overall implies a broad view, affording equality of opportunity no matter what limitations - the ideal would be that graduates of CUNY would have the same range of employment or post-grad options as graduates of Columbia. Whereas “which Ivy” suggests a sorting mechanism that further separates the haves from the have-nots-- how can one be committed to social justice and at the same time want to be the beneficiary of that anti-egalitarian system?

I can see a student who is truly committed to social justice wondering, “if I go to an Ivy will I feel totally out of place? will there be anyone like me there, or will I be surrounded by students who either come from the economic top 1% or aspire to be in the top 1%” And I am sure that there are in fact many students at Ivies who are, or think they are, committed to social justice. But that is not how the OP framed the question.

the comments above are very informative in the big picture. But I read your question as what college within the Ivy League would be most like Berkeley or Wesleyan in terms of social vibe?

If so. My answer would be Brown and Columbia. But Brown is also simultaneously known for accepting celebrities and their children so nothing is absolute. And Columbia is a mix too. Harvard has plenty of social activists as well. Dartmouth Penn and Princeton are least known for this atmosphere. But it exists there as well. Yale and Cornell have their own cultures too