Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Course Number:
SOC 214A
Course Title:
Illumination Project: Tools for Creative Social Activism 1
Credit Hours:
Lecture Hours:
Lecture/Lab Hours:
Lab Hours:
Special Fee:

Course Description

Applies the sociological perspective to the study of social problems and possible solutions. Explores topics such as institutional privilege, power and oppression, social identity, cultural assumptions and discrimination. Includes social analysis, group facilitation, social change interventions, creative production and basic acting. This is the first course of a three course sequence. Prerequisites: WR 115, RD 115 and MTH 20 or equivalent placement test scores and instructor permission. Audit available.

Addendum to Course Description

Students in this course will create live interactive theater performances that will be toured through out PCC campuses with some community performances. The performances are geared toward creating a campus and community climate that is inclusive and respectful of all people€™s culture, ethnicity, class, gender and sexual orientation, and other diversity. This course is a required component of The Illumination Project.

Intended Outcomes for the course

Upon successful completion students should be able to:
1. Apply sociological perspectives and use their sociological imagination in analyzing the causes and consequences of social problems and evaluating
social actions and reactions.
2. Locate themselves within social contexts (connect their personal biography and social status with societal history) to reflect on the processes that shape and address social problems.
3. Empathize with people, cultures and communities from backgrounds different than themselves.
4. Employ knowledge of group processing, written and oral communication skills, artistic presentation and active listening in order to engage in community change and civic action.

Outcome Assessment Strategies

At the beginning of the course, the instructor will detail the methods used to evaluate student progress and the criteria for assigning a course grade. Grading methodology will be based on the following criteria:

  1. Written assignments including journals and in class reflections based on speaker topics, class discussion and assigned reading. These written assignments are designed to promote integration of course material with personal reflection and experience.

  2. Participation in class discussion, exercises and performances.

  3. Group committee work in and out of class with the goal of producing plays, educational material or PR associated with the performances.

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)

The first term will focus on studying institutional oppression, community building, facilitation and Theater of the Oppressed. The second two terms will be similar to one another in format. Each of the second two terms will focus on a different, specific oppression and students will create and perform plays centered on that oppression.  

Specific to the first term the course will focus on:

  1. Basic oppression theory including social stratification and systems of inequality (racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, anti-semitism, ableism etc.).
  2. Historic and current day theater activism; exploring the connections between life and art with respect to personal experience with institutional oppression.
  3. Basic stage and performance techniques
  4. Structures of community

  5. Conflict resolution and negotiation techniques

In general:

The main objective of the Illumination Project is to create a campus climate that is inclusive and promotes equal access to education. The journey toward this objective begins with the training of Student Educators who in turn engage the college community in a community-wide social change process. The curriculum studied by the Student Educators covers current research and theory on institutional oppression. It addresses the effects of oppression on individuals and society and the best practices to challenge oppressive behavior. Issues addressed include community building, consciousness-raising (around issues of race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age and ability), skill building, conflict resolution and taking action to create change.  

Students also learn social-justice theater and popular education techniques. Students write and perform plays reflecting realistic current issues on the PCC Campus and surrounding community. By the time they begin their performances students are prepared to provide education and leadership around difficult and potentially emotional issues. The plays students have created include topics such as anti-Arab/anti-Muslim bias in post September 11th U.S., date rape, domestic violence, €œcoming out€ as a sexual minority at home and at school, and race and class issues for first-generation college students.  

The Illumination Project performances are based on a style of theater known as Theater of the Oppressed, which was developed by Brazilian theater activist, Augusto Boal. Theater of the Oppressed is a non-traditional theater style used to promote community-centered problem solving. During performances, Student Educators perform a student-written short play (10 to 20 minutes long), which presents a problem of discrimination or oppression. They perform the play once through without interruption and without solving the problem. Then the students start the play again. This time the audience members can yell, €œFreeze!€ when they see oppression happening. At that point, the audience member comes up on stage and takes the place of one of the characters who they believe could create a positive solution to the problem presented.  This is called an €œintervention.€ The Student Educators work with the audience member with whatever tactic they try. Sometimes an intervention from the audience €œsucceeds,€ and sometimes it does not. Either way it is an active learning experience for actors and audience members. When the audience member is finished with their intervention, the facilitator debriefs with the audience member, the actors and the rest of the audience and then the play continues to the next €œintervenable€ scene.

Student Educators not only write and perform but publicize the plays and ensure performances are a comprehensive educational experience. Student Educators design the posters and programs as well as write outreach letters and press releases. Students also create an €œAlly Book€ provided for the audience at each performance containing definitions, information, resources and specific suggestions for making a positive impact in our community. The Project works with various academic departments to facilitate Instructors bringing classes to Illumination Project performances. Instructors then use the performances as a teaching tool through in-class discussion, paper and journal writing. The Illumination Project puts the responsibility of learning in the hands of the audience while still providing structure such as ground rules, debriefs, accompanying materials, and in-class follow up to ensure that the educational strategies employed are successful.  

The Illumination Project€™s strategy is to create an environment that sets the stage for multiple ways of learning -- the active discovery and synthesis of information into knowledge -- that can be applied to success in school, careers, and throughout students€™ lives. The program works across disciplinary boundaries to involve students in an active learning experience. The methods move beyond traditional lecture format where concepts can only be discussed. As in life, the participant is an agent, actively engaged in doing. Through the activity of that experience the participant comes to own it €“ to know it.  

Student Educators also have the opportunity to augment their learning experience in the classroom with experiential learning in the form of community service through the plays they create and perform. Thus, the student learns about oppression and social change via service and experience, as well as through readings, classroom discussion and exercises. By taking the plays into the campus community, the Illumination Project students get to put their classroom learning into action and thereby enhance their own learning while contributing to the community at large.


  • Provide an analysis of institutional oppression, its relationship to their own lives, its effect on the PCC community and people from historically disenfranchised communities.
  • Be able to intervene in oppressive and conflict situations and take action to create positive change.
  • Develop and improve group processing and communication skills.
  • Improve ability to listen to and empathize with diverse opinions and experiences.
  • Describe the usefulness of social change theater and popular education learning strategies.