In an educational environment that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), research has shown that students gain increased critical thinking opportunities, higher overall achievement levels, and an increased interest in improving people’s lives. They are more prepared to enter a workforce and be influential leaders, collaborators, and problem-solvers due to their exposure to diverse perspectives and experiences.
Consequently, we are seeing a huge movement toward equity-centered approaches that embrace diversity and inclusion.
And few places have been as assertive about integrating DEI as higher education. It has become clear that when students feel valued and supported, they are more likely to thrive academically and personally. Seeing diverse representation among faculty and staff in places of higher learning has a significant impact as well. However, if we want to create meaningful, sustainable change, we need individuals at all levels within an institution to adopt a DEI mindset.
A New Concentration in Social Justice
That’s partially why the George Washington University (GW) Graduate School of Education (GSEHD) expanded its master’s program in higher education administration to include a concentration on social justice. Work was already underway in 2019 to center equity within the curriculum, but the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic, an uptick in anti-semitism and anti-Asian violence, and the increase in police brutality against Black individuals made it clear it was time to make it part of the curriculum.
According to Dr. Dwayne Kwaysee Wright, assistant professor of higher education administration and GSEHD’s director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives, part of the directive was to train students who could “help their colleagues, their communities, and…their students brace for the challenges that America…has faced, and is going to face in the future.” Through a rigorous curriculum, students gain the knowledge, skills, and perspectives needed to actively engage in promoting social justice, advance equity, and advocate for marginalized communities.
They are encouraged to conduct research on topics such as the school-to-prison pipeline, the safety of transgender students in schools, race-conscious college admissions, socialization of students of color, and the creation of anti-racist curriculum, among others. Embedded within the curriculum are opportunities for networking, mentorship, and career guidance to help students pursue careers in advocacy, policy-making, nonprofit organizations, education, community development, and related fields. Not to mention, GW’s location in Washington, D.C. offers ample connections to internships and fellowships that support one’s work in higher education management.
Key to building the curriculum was recognizing that it would need to be ever-evolving, modifying itself toward the times and skills needed by employers. It was also important to use the city of D.C. and the surrounding area as a co-classroom, so students “are not just reading about social justice, not just reading about student affairs, but…implementing it as well under the guidance of faculty,” explained Dr. Wright. An especially important characteristic of students entering the program are students who “are constantly questioning…how to better the lived experiences of others.”
Unique to the social justice in higher education concentration are two courses: Critical Theories in Higher Education and the Art of Facilitation. The former focuses on critical theoretical frameworks, while the latter focuses on developing the practical skills necessary to further programs centered around diversity, inclusion, and social justice. In tandem with the rest of the curriculum offerings, the goal is to produce leaders who can tackle the most pressing social justice issues facing students in America. With reinforced skills in higher education leadership, students are able to take all that they’ve learned to empower the communities in which they live and serve.
Dual Degree Options to Match Career Goals
Students can also further concentrate their interest in influencing higher education policy by pursuing a dual degree program. With the joint MBA/MA program, students are prepared to tackle the challenges of diminished funding and economic pressures within the context of higher education’s unique settings and trends. With the joint JD/MA program, students are prepared to step into complicated fields such as Title IX compliance and student rights and responsibilities while serving as legal counsel for an institution.
No matter how you choose to approach the complexities of higher education, approaching it through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion will allow you to create a meaningful, sustainable, and nourishing environment. As Dr. Wright notes, “The world is kind of crazy right now, and what's very valuable and very rare is a job in which you can not only work and get paid, but instill and live your values. If your values are for learning, for inquiry, for free debate, for allowing young people to live, play, and work in a unique environment in which they can become the best people they can be, the best citizens they can be, eventually to the best professionals they can be… this might be the program for you.” To learn more about the Higher Education Administration programs, request information from a GSEHD admissions coach.