iSchool’s diversity initiatives are all-inclusive
Sunny Kim worked in nonprofits for 10 years before returning to school for a Master in Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree. Despite a personal passion for diversity, Kim hadn’t anticipated putting a lot of energy into shaping the culture of the iSchool, because change at an institution its size could take years.
Kim was pleasantly surprised. Now an Information Diversity Ambassador (iDA), Kim is part of a group of volunteer undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. students who act as contacts for prospective students.
“What I’ve noticed about the iSchool is that they both value our feedback and incorporate it and then try to continue to check in as things develop as much as possible,” Kim says. “And that is really impressive to me. The iSchool backs up words with actions.”
Kim, along with other students, staff and faculty have volunteered for the iDEA project, which stands for iSchool diversity, equity and access. It is part of the UW’s Race and Equity Initiative, launched in spring 2015 by President Ana Mari Cauce.
“The challenge from the president was to address racial bias among units, as well as having people address their own bias. How we do that was left open, so we could be as innovative and creative as possible,” says Cynthia del Rosario (pictured), the iSchool’s diversity programs advisor for the past 10 years.
“The first step was to put a call out to our faculty, staff and students to submit ideas for integrating diversity events, workshops, courses that would be equitable for everyone,” says del Rosario. “We put a comprehensive plan together and submitted it for funding.”
The university offered an incentive in the form of matching grants to fund ideas across all units and campuses. The $15,000 awarded to the iSchool in 2016 is now going to fund a variety of workshops, seminars, and outreach efforts.
Impacting the Student Experience
One such effort was a workshop to help student group leaders examine race, bias and equity issues coming from their own UW student colleagues and learn how to recognize and react appropriately. Participants in these sessions went on to share their knowledge and skills through Bafa Bafa, a simulation exercise aimed to improve cross‐cultural competence by understanding the impact of culture on the behavior of people and organizations.
Brittney Hoy (pictured), president of Winfo (Women in Informatics) felt an immediate impact. In particular, her session explored the concept of privilege and helped her think about it in a new way.
“I’ve always known privilege and racism existed, but through these events I’m learning what it means and how to be more sensitive to people. Just because it isn’t happening to me doesn’t mean it isn’t happening to them.”
Many students feel this topic is particularly important at the iSchool because the knowledge they gain about bias and privilege is useful in their careers when serving the broader community. iSchool graduates work in a variety of organizational settings including libraries, nonprofits and the tech industry. Their diversity work will shape interactions with people and the products and services they build.
“I have that ability to create change and it feels really good to potentially change someone’s life,” says Royce Le, Informatics student and Director of Diversity Efforts for the Informatics student group (IUGA).
Le, who grew up in Federal Way, Washington, says his community did not have the resources for student clubs and technology. His long-term goal is to build a community center with the latest technologies and best teachers to show people how to use those technologies effectively.
In the meantime, he would like to bring his passion for diversity to the workplace. He plans to work as a designer in the tech industry. “My goal is to be cognizant of these things so when I build applications, I can incorporate it into their design and words — introduce concepts, but also actions.”
The iSchool Ph.D. program is sponsoring three workshops that lend practical skills to teaching and job searches. Topics include: how to be a teacher’s assistant in a diverse classroom; how to write a diversity statement that meaningfully articulates their personal experiences; and a research lightning round to help them handle constructive feedback from peers and faculty.
“Part of the touchy subject about race in America is just talking about it. So we wanted to create an atmosphere to help people understand how to do that,” says Verónica Guajardo, a Ph.D. candidate.
“For us to feel like this is a place where we can succeed, this is a place where we belong, integrating diversity at the iSchool will help with doctoral student retention, help us be happier, and will bring diverse ideas to the program,” says Guajardo.
Ph.D. students will also benefit from the writing retreats offered for faculty and doctoral students doing research in diversity. During the six-day retreats at the Whitely Center in Friday Harbor, mornings are aside for writing and afternoons for connecting, community‐building and mentoring.
“One of the things that is challenging for faculty and aspiring faculty is finding time to write. This will allow our Ph.D. students in particular to do more writing so that their CV is as good as it can be,” says Joseph Tennis, associate dean for faculty affairs.
Diversity in the Curriculum
Del Rosario is leading the effort in the iSchool to integrate diversity into the curriculum. This can take the form of a specific course, but the long-term goal is to have a diversity-related element in every course students take.
The strategy is to start by reviewing syllabi of faculty who are teaching core courses or highly enrolled electives in order to suggest ways to integrate diversity into course content, assignments and the structure of the classrooms. Faculty participate, along with invited alumni, UW colleagues and community professionals who have knowledge of the information field and expertise in diversity.
For the MLIS program, this resulted in additional courses.
“In a lot of MLIS courses, diversity is the backbone,” says Jin Ha Lee (pictured), MLIS chair. “One of the things we’ve added next year is a new social justice course, and we will be adding a 1-credit seminar on cultural competency this summer.”
It also makes practical sense. “Many of our students go to public institutions where they serve a very diverse group of people and we need to be careful and respectful about our interactions,” she said.
The iSchool also plans to create courses on diversity that could go beyond the iSchool to other UW employees.
iDiversity University, to debut this summer, will offer an online course, “Intro to iSchool Diversity” or “iDiversity 101,” designed to help people navigate the diversity conversations at the iSchool. Faculty, with a team of iSchool students, will develop several videos, supplemented with articles, websites, and other resources.
Building Skills for Staff and Faculty
Every year for the past six years, the iSchool has held a Diversity Summit (pictured at top). The event attracts 90‐100 students, faculty and staff, with themes that vary depending on current affairs.
Greg Taylor, founder of Community Connections Consulting and former UW vice provost, will facilitate the 2017 summit on the theme of Race, Bias and Dissonance. Taylor facilitated the student leadership workshop, a student services staff workshop, and faculty conversations about how to have hard but critical conversations about race, bias and true equity in the curriculum and classrooms.
An added program this year provided an opportunity for all staff and faculty to attend a retreat about tribal sovereignty. The iSchool was the first unit at the UW to do so. Mystique Hurtado, executive assistant in the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, led the session with support from iSchool alumnus Ross Braine, UW wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (Intellectual House) Director and UW OMAD’s tribal liaison.
The tribal sovereignty retreat supports one of the strategic areas at the iSchool, Native North American Indigenous Knowledge. The UW iSchool is the first information school to honor the treaties of indigenous populations by having an information science program that studies and celebrates the intersection of information, technology, and Native communities.
Beyond the Classroom
Inclusivity means educating the broader community about the iSchool’s work. Two efforts are underway to reach out to immigrant parents and bring the school’s work to children in fun and innovative summer programs.
One of the challenges in the Informatics program is helping the families of students, many of them first-generation scholars, to understand the information field in ways that connect culturally to the community, describe career options, and highlight employers and the salary range of recent iSchool alumni.
To solve this problem, students decided to create one-page information brochures for parents whose first language is not English. The first set of brochures, translated by iSchool students, are in Vietnamese, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Korean and Somali.
The impact and effectiveness of the program will be monitored and more languages will be added as needed.
A summer camp, called Read-a-Rama, aims to improve attitudes about reading among children and their parents from underrepresented communities and to eliminate illiteracy altogether. Michelle Martin, Beverly Cleary Professor in Children’s and Youth Services, in partnership with Compass Housing Alliance and Gethsemane Lutheran Church, is leading the summer program, which utilizes children’s and young adult books as the springboard for program activities to teach kids to love books through fun, themed literacy immersion experiences.
Del Rosario summed up her approach in the iDEA project in this way: “We look for small wins – building diversity into your everyday behavior. Everybody wants immediate change — we want to increase diversity by 25 percent in one year — but that isn’t likely. When we change our culture by making authentic changes in individuals, we will see results over time.”