The Top Social Justice Stories of 2017 that will Define 2018

2017 was a tumultuous year. In many ways, the country moved backwards on some issues of social justice that many believed had begun to move forward. The Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, which President Obama had previously put the kibosh on due to environmental concerns and the protests of local Native Americans, are now back underway after the Trump administration ok’d continued development in the name of energy security. Push-back against environmental groups were undoubtedly part of this decision, as the rollback of the EPA, backing out of the Paris Agreements and the denial of conventional climate science were moves the new administration made early on this year. The travel restrictions suggested by the multiple executive orders of President Trump, often referred to as the “Muslim ban”, seem to follow the narrative that many far-right supporters believe; that Muslims pose a threat to society. The President’s actions and words suggest at the very least influence from, if not the full-fledged support of, the alt-right community. NFL protests, internet trolling, voting rights, the condemning of news media by the Trump administration, and the breakout of the #MeToo movement have been only some of the largest stories of 2017 that show the struggle of progressive movements of late. However, what makes many of these stories stand out to me is the fact that none of them have been resolved at the point of writing this blog post. Now that the new year is in swing, it appears that many of these controversies are far from ending. In my opinion, the issues of 2017 that will bleed into 2018 will be the most influential and controversial of this year. Here are the top stories of 2017, in no particular order, which I believe will define 2018.


Arguably the biggest story of 2017, the #MeToo movement (women revealing the history of sexual harassment, abuse, and overall sexism that they have faced) opened the world’s eyes into just how large of a problem sexism and sexual abuse is in the lives of so many women. #MeToo gained traction initially as allegations against many in Hollywood (including actors, executives and directors) came to light, including accusations made by many Hollywood stars themselves. The story went on for months as more and more tales of sexual misconduct were revealed and the movement, emphasized by the hashtag #MeToo on social media, spread into the lives of laypeople when everyday women revealed the history of sexism so many have endured.

This beginning of a widespread purge of sexism in their lives earned the silence breakers of #MeToo the Time’s Magazine Most Influential Person of the Year award in 2017. However, the revealing of terrible sexism and harassment has continued into 2018, and was a prominent topic during the recent 2018 Golden Globes Awards, where many in the crowd wore all black and gave rousing speeches to protest Hollywood’s history of sexism. With any luck, the movement will continue through the rest of the year and continue to be a massive force for change.

The NFL Protests

One of the more interesting twists on the Black Lives Matter movement occurred last year during the 2017 NFL football season, when players began to kneel or lock arms en masse during the National Anthem to bring awareness to police violence against people of color. This stemmed from the previous year when player Colin Kaepernick began doing the same, to the ire of the NFL and its majority-white fan base. However, these new protests garnered widespread controversy. Many fans, pundits and even President Trump called upon the teams to punish or even fire players who protested during the Anthem, making it an issue of respect for the flag and veterans. Some say that painting the protests as disrespectful to troops is simply a move to delegitimize this extension of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Even on the other side, some supporters of BLM say that the protests have become more about sports and freedom of speech, steering away from the original mission of bringing awareness to police brutality. Either way, players seemed to come together, black and white, in solidarity over the issue. Detractors still make demands from the NFL to deal with the protesting players, but there likely will not be a decision made until the upcoming 2018 season. No matter the decision, there will likely be continued controversy in some form in 2018 over America’s most watched sport.

The Pipelines and the Environment

In 2016, the country saw huge backlash from the Native American Community over the building of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, as they were being built on Native American lands and the Dakota Access line had the potential to contaminate the water supply for the Standing Rock Souix. While President Obama put a hold on the two pipelines’ construction that year, President Trump approved to have the construction start back up again early in 2017. Job growth, reducing dependency on foreign fuel and the denial that there were risks of spills were cited as the main explanations for the pipelines’ approval.

However there was a large reported leak at a sister Keystone pipeline in the Dakotas where over 210,000 gallons of oil were spilled, leading to further questions of risk to waterways and Native American lands. The disregard for Native land and security should raise questions of who is forced to take the brunt of environmental hazards and disasters. With the administration slashing environmental regulations, citing climate change as a lie, there are likely to be more man-made hazards that not only pose risks to our land and air, but to our citizens. Those at the highest risk often are those of lower income or minority communities. Race is one of the most significant factors in the level of pollution citizens are exposed to, and disenfranchised groups often don’t have the means to protect themselves when environmental hazards are affecting them. The environmental controversies of the country not only affect our planet, but our most vulnerable communities. The administrations continued disregard for the environment, along with the continued construction of the pipeline, should keep the conversation going as 2018 progresses.

The Travel Ban

 In the earliest, and most confusing, days of the Trump presidency, he signed an executive order colloquially known as the “Muslim Travel Ban” where travel was entirely restricted from seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Africa. The order also suspended the nation’s refugee program and lowered the number of acceptable refugees overall, with the goal of “protecting the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States”. The order received swift backlash from both protesters and the legal community. Judges placed numerous holds on the ban, citing it as illegal, and time after time edits were made to the ban to try to make it constitutional. Recently, the third full revision of the order was submitted to the Supreme Court to ask it to be upheld, with significant changes to the languages and the countries that would face travel bans. The controversy is obviously still ongoing and it has yet to be seen how the issue will be resolved, but with the recent debates over immigration reform, it is unlikely that the resolution will come any time soon.

Immigration and the Administration’s Rhetoric

The recent comments made by the President, where he reportedly called people traveling from Haiti, El Salvador and various African countries “immigrants from shithole countries” and that the United States should accept more people from countries like Norway underscores the debate currently being had about immigration into America. With DACA and temporary protective status for thousands being threatened, along with the insistence that more of the national budget go to border security and the infamous “border wall”, many immigrants are understandably on edge. However, the rhetoric used by President Trump both in office and during his campaign suggest that the reforms may be more racially motivated than anything. Continued racialized language used by the President, whether it is embellishing “black crime”, generalizing Mexican immigrants as rapists or calling for a shutdown of the travel of Muslims into the country, President Trump’s language regarding people of color and foreigners suggests that the policy that the administration is suggesting is motivated by race.


These stories either started in or continued into the year 2017, and were important in their own right. However, what makes them truly remarkable is that they are still ongoing. The longevity that these stories have maintained suggest that they are going to be influences in the politics of 2018 and the conversations that need to be had in the future. These were by no means the only important stories of the last year, or the only ones that have continued thus far. However these are some of the most important stories, in my opinion, that deal with racial issues and topics of social justice that will shape how those subjects are talked about in the coming year, and perhaps even further on.


  1. The resiliency of these issues is the modern example of the persistence of social issues since the founding of the country…voting rights, from Jim Crow, the poll tax…to Judge Roberts stating that the success of the voting rights law is evidence oversight is no longer needed, manifest now in legislation designed to minimize minority voting; prison reform (I am glad you are working on this issue) — data shows an inverse relationship between the rate of violent crime and the numbers of incarcerated in the U.S.; poverty rates, with hundreds of thousands — millions — needing food programs to maintain anything resembling a reasonable diet….domestic violence, records show judges are seldom imposing legal penalties on perpetrators. Not a surprise that a year later these issues are still current? Try these same issues still current for well over a century!

    1. Thanks for writing. Assuming you are the same person, I remember you from my days at Louisville when you were the dean. I’m honored that you read this and responded.

      1. Pamela: At this stage of life my greatest pleasure is learning of the important contributions being made by so many of the female students I knew at the U of L. In early December three of them who knew me as long as 50 years ago as a faculty member and as Dean visited me for a wonderful weekend of celebrating the joys of companionship of the group I now dub “My Interesting Women”, from former students who knew me as their first female science faculty member and Dean to the exceptional women I have worked with professionally and on social issues since then. Perhaps you could join us for one of our annual Interesting Women get togethers!

    2. Thank you so much for you comment and for the extra context that you offered. Your thoughtful input is appreciated.

  2. I am a college student working on a paper analysing social justices in different countries the US and a country of my choice. Can you give me any suggestions on a second country involving sex crimes and trafficking

    1. I could help on this but I can assure you that some of the stories can be heart-wrenching. I am a trained social worker and I can assure you that maybe we share an ideology; to make this world a better place for those who require our help.

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