A newly created school at the University of Utah aims to provide an intellectual foundation for understanding and addressing some of the most pressing issues surrounding race and gender in American society.
That goal is reflected in its name: School for Cultural and Social Transformation—the first school in the Intermountain West to make the intersection of race, gender and social justice its focus.
“This development positions the University of Utah at the forefront of a trend within the Pac-12 to establish schools centered on these critical subjects,” said Kathryn Bond Stockton, dean of the school and associate vice president for the Office for Equity and Diversity. “This is a beginning step in the work required to ensure the success of all our students and better prepare everyone for working together to resolve inequities.”
The school officially celebrated its opening at an event on Nov. 2 that featured two keynote addresses on the topic of “Race and Queer Space” in LGBTQ communities. The school was proposed in January 2016 and formally approved by the Board of Trustees in July before launching at the start of fall semester.
The Office for Equity and Diversity will oversee the school’s teaching, research and service activities. The formation of the school, moreover, elevates the Gender Studies and Ethnic Studies programs to divisions that will be able to directly hire and grant tenure to faculty, something neither was able to do under program status. The divisions will also still be able to work with other academic areas to hire shared-appointment faculty.
“Being able to hire our own faculty and grant promotion and tenure is huge for us,” said Ed Munoz, chair of the Division of Ethnic Studies. “With shared faculty positions, we don’t have as much input on retention, promotion and tenure decisions, so oftentimes faculty feel pulled to fulfill what is expected of them in their home department.”
At this time, no degree offerings are being changed, added or eliminated. Going forward, the School for Cultural and Social Transformation will grant major and minor degrees for each division, as well as the Gender Studies graduate certificate. The school will celebrate its first graduating class May 2018.
“Faculty are thrilled because of the institutional support to continue to develop their intellectual projects,” said Susie Porter, chair of the Division of Gender Studies. “The school creates a new academic space that draws from the strengths of traditional disciplines but is not limited by those approaches.”
A key emphasis of the new school will be enhancing opportunities for students to participate in community-engaged research and partnerships—something Porter said students have made clear they want.
The U has long supported an intellectual forum for exploring race and gender. In 1968, it created Black Studies, Chicano Studies and American Indian Studies programs; by 1976-77, these programs were consolidated in the Ethnic Studies Program. The Gender Studies Program was launched in 1976. Last November, students, staff, faculty and administrators gathered for a town hall meeting on racial climate at the university. The “Open Dialogue on Racial Climate” led to 13 immediate responses from the university’s administration, including the development of the new School for Cultural and Social Transformation.
“I feel that ethnic studies and gender studies are degrees for the 21st century because they teach our students how to navigate in an increasingly diverse country and world,” Munoz said. “It’s cultural competency, in many ways. We already see the changing demographics—racial and ethnic—of the nation and even in Utah. It is time for folks to become better informed about the different kinds of people they are going to serve.”