WU admin, faculty set to recommend creation of an institute for race and ethnicity

| Senior News Editor

Washington University’s Race/Identity/Social Justice Institute Task Force is set to recommend the creation of an institute for race and ethnicity in a report to Chancellor Mark Wrighton and Provost Holden Thorp in June.

The recommendation outlines three primary purposes of the race institute: the promotion of outstanding research, facilitation of student learning and research on race and ethnicity and creation of infrastructure within University faculty to contribute to public discourse and public design, including local or regional needs, according to Vice Provost Adrienne Davis.

While the recommendation has not yet been made, the task force has identified potential needs of the institute, including physical space.

“We think it needs some faculty office space, learning spaces and some programming spaces. But we don’t presume to say whether it could go into an existing space or whether it would need to be in a new space,” Davis said.

Chaired by Davis, the task force was created two years ago under the umbrella of the Steering Commission for Diversity and Inclusion, created to establish a University-wide plan for diversity. The Race/Identity/Social Justice Institute Task Force was charged with making recommendations on the implementation of an action item in the commission’s two-year, 12 point action plan, calling for the University to “consider and evaluate a possible race/identity/social justice institute.”

According to Davis, the members of the task force met with faculty from several other disciplines, including Asian-American studies and the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies in the Brown School of Social Work.

While none of the identity-focused programs will be forced to join the race institute, “they will certainly be invited to join,” Davis said.

William Acree, associate professor of Spanish, discussed the potential synergy between the race institute and the Latinx studies program, describing the center as not only a “boost for Latinx studies but for the study of race and ethnicity writ large.”

A revised proposal for Latinx studies has been presented to the academic advisory committee of Barbara Schaal, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences. Following initial discussions in September, the new proposal has expanded to include faculty from a variety of disciplines including anthropology, sociology and history, according to Schaal.

“Latinx [studies] is so important that it can’t just be in language and culture. It has to have a much broader base. It’s too important to keep it just focused within one area,” Schaal said. “What’s very important for me is we have to go beyond Arts & Sciences for this. We need to do law, social work, public health issues. All of this has to be brought in, and it needs to be a structure that accommodates all of this.”

In order to support a Latinx program, Acree emphasized the importance of creating a community of scholars at the University mainly through hiring faculty who specialize in that discipline.

“If you want to create a program in Latinx studies, you have to think about resources, specifically faculty resources and community,” Acree said. “From the faculty point of view, you have to have more than one person who teaches in the field of Latinx studies, otherwise they’re going to feel like there’s not a community. We were thinking of ways to generate interest around this initiative in terms of interest and how that can come together in terms of hiring faculty.”

According to Schaal, the Latinx studies proposal will be able to move forward following the University’s response to the task force’s recommendation for a race and ethnicity institute.

In an additional effort to diversify curriculum at Washington University, the College of Arts & Sciences will change its social differentiation IQ requirement to social contrast. This change, according to professor Todd Decker, chair of the Arts and Sciences curriculum committee, will be implemented in the 2017-18 academic year starting with the class of 2021 and will not affect upperclassmen who have already completed the requirement.

According to the curriculum proposal, courses with the social contrast designation will “have a major topical focus on understanding how social categories are created and their impact on individuals, groups and societies.”

While only half of the content for a social differentiation course was required to address topics of race, ethnicity and gender, social contrast courses will focus entirely on these subjects. Decker hopes the change will force departments and individual faculty members to reevaluate what they’re teaching. In addition, the requirement will clarify for students the purpose of the course they’re taking.

“I think students will realize that every day they’re in the class, this is what the course is about. This is the class where…you’ll be constantly confronting these issues because they’re important in that respect,” Decker said. “When you take that [social contrast] course, you’ll know from the entire experience of the course that it gives you the opportunity to deal with those issues through a subject matter within the area you’re dealing with.”