Readers of the fall newsletter might remember the announcement that Composition and Rhetoric graduate student Neil Simpkins won the inaugural Leadership and Service Award organized by the department’s Diversity and Inclusion Student Committee (D+ISC). This semester, we have invited the D+ISC to share a little more about the group. Here is what they had to say:
At the beginning of the Spring 2018 semester, the department invited 4 students (three graduate and one undergraduate) to gather information about how UW English could become a more welcoming place. We were charged with addressing both pedagogical concerns and more social ones related to diversity and social justice. We chose the acronym D+ISC (for Diversity and Inclusion Student Committee) to bring the complex practices of “inclusion” to broader “diversity” initiatives the university has been sponsoring to address concerns about campus climate.
Last spring D+ISC began this work with listening sessions for both undergraduate and graduate members of the department, which helped us to identify important needs articulated by students who attended. D+ISC composed a report to communicate to the faculty what we discovered during these conversations. During the past three semesters, we invited a larger team of English grad students to help design a series of pedagogical workshops. These 90-minute conversations have examined what happens in our classrooms: the challenges graduate TAs face when teaching materials about race, sexuality, and class, and how we can do this work better with greater compassion and insight.
One of the most encouraging revelations of this work has been discovering the depth of knowledge we collectively have within our graduate student community. This year, 16 graduate students have stepped forward to prepare one (sometimes two) of these workshops, sharing expertise, and exchanging strategies about how to respond to specific in-class situations we have faced. These events have also offered an unusual opportunity for grad students to collaborate with faculty from the English Department and the ESL Program: our gratitude to Kristina Huang, Leslie Bow, and Heidi Evans for bringing their energy and knowledge to these collaborations. We are also indebted to Associate Department Chair, David Zimmerman, for his steady support and advice throughout this period, as well as Department Chair Russ Castronovo for providing resources and administrative support and for inviting D+ISC to make our own decisions about the best way to put those resources to use.
Finally, during the current semester the campus has hosted over a dozen job candidates who were being considered for several positions in ethnic studies, many who may also find a home in the English department. Members of D+ISC helped to organize grad student gatherings with these candidates, in part to provide feedback to search committees, but also to offer a welcoming conversation to candidates and to share some insights about the ways that the campus supports underrepresented students. In future semesters, D+ISC will continue soliciting feedback from department members about ongoing conversations that provide important support for students in our classes. We are especially grateful to all the grad students who have generously shared their pedagogical knowledge and concerns with the department––we hope others will join us for this work during the upcoming year.
D+ISC Members, 2018–2019
Erica Kanesaka Kalnay
Some images from a D+ISC workshop on bias: