Social Justice, Diversity, and Public Service/Public Affairs Educaton: Creating Space for Constructive Dialogue
Deans of graduate schools with missions in the public interest share a common annual experience. A group of students, usually early in the year, through an appointment or in informal conversation, will challenge the dean on the school’s commitment to diversity, racial awareness, and social justice. For us, and for most deans we know, the challenge is as difficult as it is familiar. On a personal level, we can often see our young, student selves in a dean’s or president’s office making a similar argument. As teachers, we have worked throughout our careers to include challenging readings and discussions on diversity and social justice in our courses. Indeed, a good track record on issues of diversity is, appropriately, an important criterion in recruiting and reviewing deans of schools like ours. At the same time, however, the student presence is a disturbing reminder that public service and public affairs education has not yet found an accepted, adequate means to address these issues, which infuse myriad public policy challenges in our curricula.
As deans of our respective schools, we bring very different backgrounds and experiences to our leadership. One of us is a male African American political scientist who has spent his career in the academy, most recently creating and leading a program on community-university partnerships. The other is a female white American, trained as a lawyer, who worked as a manager in NYC government, most notably in juvenile detention, before coming to academia. Where we work, Los Angeles and New York City, are similar as large, diverse, global cities, but markedly different in the cultures, histories, and climates that define them.
In the spring of 2009, UCLA and NYU joined forces to hold and broadcast a series of student-faculty-administrator dialogues aimed at creating a space and framework for conversations of sensitive social justice issues in the context of graduate education in public affairs, public policy, public administration, public service, urban planning, and social welfare. With support from the Kellogg Foundation, our two schools planned and held two such dialogues, one in New York and one in Los Angeles, with groups of students, faculty, and administrators who traveled between the two locations.
There are also two key perspectives we share, which certainly facilitated this collaboration. The first, which we came to by independent paths, is an appreciation of the value of the concept of frames and framing, both in the sense of a social science schema and as a simple metaphor. One of us is an established academic scholar on the use of framing to construct interpretations of race. The other uses the idea of framing to define and describe the mission of her institution and the goals of her leadership. As citizens, teachers, scholars, and administrators we consciously operate within a range of predetermined frames, and as academic leaders we have some authority to frame the missions of our institutions to meet contemporary challenges. The second perspective we share is a deep commitment to advancing social justice; it’s why we’ve done what we’ve done, and do what we do.
We share with you the plan, activities, outcomes, and recommendations that emerged out of these sessions. Our aim is to inform peer institutions on the current state of dialogues on this issue, to share a “toolkit” consisting of the activities and adaptations that were most useful in generating productive conversation, and advance the discussion on diversity, race, and social justice in professional schools that serve the public interest.
To read complete paper on these dialogues, please click here.