Section X. Diversity and Research
Women Studies facilitates students and scholars alike not only in understanding the importance of class, race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and other bases of social inequalities in women’s and men’s lives, but also in developing feminist theories and methods that contribute to ongoing movements for social justice.
Judith Howard, Chair of Women Studies
Highlighting Diversity in Research
The creation and dissemination of knowledge is central to the University of Washington’s mission as a major research university, and its remarkable success in research places it in the top rank of public universities. In 2000, the most recent year that comparative information is available from the National Science Foundation, the UW was first among public and second among all universities, public and private, in federal research awards. In light of its centrality to the institution’s mission, the subject of research could figure more prominently in the University’s plan for diversity.
The category of research was combined with curriculum in the Diversity Appraisal format. It is separated here in order to focus more attention on needs in both areas. As with curriculum, those academic units that focus on human diversity (American Ethnic Studies, American Indian Studies, Law, Societies and Justice, Women Studies, International Studies, for example) have faculty members with prominent and in many cases internationally recognized research. Others, such as Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, the College of Education, the School of Social Work, and the Departments of Communication, Family Medicine, Geography, Sociology, provided extensive information about faculty research on aspects of diversity.
A review of administrative units’ appraisals points to the lack of data on diversity-related research at the University of Washington. No administrative unit is presently charged with responsibility for the systematic collection of information on external research funding, internal investments, areas of research expertise, or ongoing research on diversity at the University of Washington.
Interdisciplinary Research Centers with Emphases on Diversity
Diversity appraisals highlight the critical role that interdisciplinary centers have played in supporting research on diversity. Some of the more prominent centers include:
Center for the Advancement of Health Disparities Research, School of Nursing
Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education
Center for Multicultural Education, College of Education
Center for Research on the Family, Department of Economics
Center for Workforce Development, College of Engineering
Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, School of Medicine
Center for Women’s Health Research, School of Nursing
Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, Department of Communication
Institute for Ethnic Studies in the United States, Department of Sociology
Institute for Transnational Studies, The Jackson School of International Studies
Institute for Intergroup Dialogue, Education and Action, School of Social Work
Native Wellness Center, School of Social Work
Northwest/Alaska Center to Reduce Oral Health Disparities
In addition, the Walter C. Simpson Center for the Humanities has played a central role in funding collaborative research projects on cutting-edge topics in diversity such a critical race theory, disability studies, critical Asian studies and a host of other topics.
Faculty Research on Diversity
In addition, the UW’s faculty includes many nationally recognized scholars whose research contributes to an understanding of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, disability, nationality, religion and related issues. While not all members of underrepresented groups focus on questions of diversity in their research, and not all individuals who focus on diversity are members of underrepresented groups, there can be little doubt that the growing diversity of graduate students and faculty at the University of Washington has effectively opened new lines of inquiry in research across the disciplines.
The level of faculty and student engagement in research on diversity-related themes varies across units. Some departments, such as American Ethnic Studies and Women Studies, regard diversity as central to their mission. Others, such as the School of Social Work, have a sufficient cluster of faculty expertise in this area to mount projects of common interest. In many other departments, faculty members whose research programs focus on diversity have fewer departmental colleagues with shared interests. Several research clusters emerged from the diversity appraisals as sources of strength at the University of Washington, including multicultural education, Native American Studies, health disparities, and environmental social justice. A complete audit of research on diversity will undoubtedly yield many more areas of interest and strength.
Venues for intellectual exchange and collaboration that cross the disciplines are particularly important for faculty and graduate students in fields where diversity-related research resides at the margins of disciplinary inquiry.
Examples of Good Practice
- Organizing administration-level discussion of diversity. Discussion of the Diversity Appraisal within the President’s Cabinet and Provost’s staff has begun to reframe the issue of diversity in ways that raise the visibility of diversity-related research.
- Using seed-funding to support faculty and initiatives. A number of UW centers have consistently provided seed funding and venues for intellectual exchange and research collaboration among faculty engaged in diversity-related research. The Simpson Center for the Humanities has provided strong support to individual faculty and cross-disciplinary collaborative projects related to diversity, for projects such as interdisciplinary “Modern Girl around the World” symposium and collaborative research project.
- Supporting and promoting faculty expertise in diversity research. Some colleges, schools, and departments highlight faculty expertise about diversity and feature the strength of their research programs on diversity-related subjects. Faculty members in English, Women Studies, American Ethnic Studies, History, and the Jackson School in particular have been on the cutting edge of new theoretical frameworks, organizing and participating in research clusters and symposia such as “Thinking Sex in Transnational Times,” critical race theory, gay and lesbian studies, rethinking Asian American studies, and American studies. The Simpson Center for the Humanities plays a central role in funding such collaborations.
- Supporting faculty research on diversity in higher education. The University of Washington has many outstanding faculty whose research focuses on topics such as diversity, social justice, educational access, health disparities, and environmental justice. The Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, edited by James A. Banks and Cherry A.M. Banks, and a project of the Center for Multicultural Education, is an award-winning and internationally influential publication that definitively surveys the field of multicultural education.
- Supporting research partnerships that benefit the UW and external communities. The Native Voices Program combines intensive research in American Indian studies with thorough training in documentary film, bringing contemporary Native American issues and advocacy to a wider audience. The Northwest/Alaska Center to Reduce Oral Health Disparities provides services to populations with limited access to health care.
Challenges and Recommendations
- Establishing responsibility for tracking data. The wealth of UW research and faculty expertise on diversity is not currently tracked institutionally, nor is it always clear which office is responsible for institutional data on diversity.
- Implementing university-wide conversations that reframe UW’s commitment to diversity. The UW must seek increasing ways to emphasize the value of diversity in the production and dissemination of knowledge and articulate an institutional commitment to leadership and excellence in diversity research.
- Accounting fully for the value of diversity research in the University’s reward structure. There is not yet a clear understanding of how effectively the existing system of rewards at the departmental, unit, and institutional level recognize diversity research.
- Institutionalizing formal support systems for intellectual exchange on diversity. Central supports do not currently exist for intellectual exchange among researchers focused on diversity. Such support for intellectual communities at the international, national, campus, and unit level would foster intellectual exchange and collaboration among researchers focused on diversity.
- Assessing institutional research infrastructure to determine how effectively it supports diversity research and identifying funding to support diversity research. A preliminary reading of unit appraisals suggests that central institutional support could play an important, connective role in engaging academic units in a common conversation about diversity in the context of faculty and student research, as well as in the integration of new knowledge derived from research into the curriculum. Collaborations in research and teaching that connect the social sciences, sciences, and humanities are critical to understanding the social, scientific, and cultural bases for ideas about difference.
- Creating central leadership for research and diversity initiatives. Clearly there are strong threads of connection among and between the areas of study in this report. Administratively, there is a need for central leadership in redefining diversity as central to the research mission of the University, and coordinating what now exists as disparate initiatives. Recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty and student body is an important component of widening the questions asked in research. Faculty and students engaged in community-based research have a substantial stake in improving the University’s relationship with underrepresented communities and in ensuring that the complexity of this work is recognized and valued by our institution. Thus the issue of research is interwoven with many other aspects of diversity. The challenge that lies ahead is to provide the appropriate infrastructure to support the work of UW faculty and students on these subjects, thus raising the University’s visibility as an intellectual leader in the area of diversity research. Funding from the Provost’s Fund for Innovation and Redesign to the Office of the Vice President and Vice Provost for Diversity will enable planning for a University Diversity Research Institute that seeks to build upon this expertise and create a collaborative infrastructure to enhance this research.