Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Washington State University
CAS Connect April 2014

Diversity Faculty Fellows bring ideas for change

Advocating for people with disabilities isn’t a sideline for Dana Baker. It’s something she thinks about—and does—every day.

For these efforts, Baker was being recognized with the University’s 2014 Faculty Diversity Award during WSU Showcase events in Pullman.

Dana Baker
Dana Baker

“During the course of my life and work, I have had the opportunity to directly engage disability issues, to witness discrimination rooted in responses to disability and to enjoy positive aspects of neurodiversity in my relationships and community,” Baker said. “These experiences continually reinforce my passion in these areas.”

When it comes to making the campus of WSU Vancouver more welcoming to people of all abilities, Baker has a lot of ideas.

An associate professor in the School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Baker is one of three 2013/2014 Diversity Faculty Fellows at WSU Vancouver. Her yearlong project, Enhancing Neurodiversity at WSU Vancouver, is well under way.

Neurodiversity acknowledges and honors the vast range of human abilities and ways of thinking—the many different ways people are “wired.” A related concept, neuroethics, involves social and ethical issues related to neurodiversity.

Baker will soon launch a survey of campus attitudes toward neurological differences, and she has scheduled two training workshops in April. Her goal is to raise awareness and help implement neurodiversity best practices on campus. For example, instead of relying on stereotypes about people who think and act differently, faculty, students and staff might first question their assumptions about a person’s behavior, affect and attention—and remember that their own experience is limited.

Baker is also working on an online training module regarding neurodiversity and neuroethics that will be available by end of summer to anyone, at WSU and beyond.

Besides Baker, two other Diversity Faculty Fellows this year are working to enhance campus diversity practices.

Steve Fountain
Steve Fountain

Steve Fountain, clinical assistant professor of history, is looking at ways to improve the university’s relationship with the Native American community and increase opportunities for Native American students and faculty. His model is the Plateau Center for Native American Programs at Pullman, which reflects a formal relationship between WSU and 10 tribes from the region. With the input of an advisory board of tribal representatives, the center coordinates what had been a patchwork process, facilitating everything from curriculum development to recruitment  to grants.

The long-term goal is to see a similar center on the WSU Vancouver campus. In the short term, Fountain hopes his current outreach efforts will increase the visibility of Native American students, faculty and curriculum while identifying areas where tribal and organizational needs fit well with campus resources. By the end of the spring semester, he will deliver a report to university and tribal decision makers so they can determine the next steps.

Wendy Olson
Wendy Olson

Wendy Olson, associate professor of English, is adapting the Critical Literacies Achievement and Success Program for WSU Vancouver. Already successful at WSU Pullman, CLASP is designed to support retention of low-income, first-generation, racially diverse or otherwise underrepresented students through one-on-one mentoring in university conventions and culture. It is integrated into their required composition course, usually taken during the first year of college. By succeeding in this course, students have a better chance to succeed in subsequent classes with higher expectations for reading, writing and research.

The program works with faculty as well as students, training faculty in pedagogical techniques and promoting better communication between teachers and students. Each student has an “advocate,” a coach who also facilitates regular conferences with the faculty member.

CLASP was piloted in the fall and again this spring with English 102 students, who typically take the one-credit tutorial in conjunction with English 101. The graduate students leading the tutorials served as advocates. Initial results have been positive, and additional professional development workshops are planned this spring. Olson is also investigating integration of CLASP with the LEAPS program for student success and exploring how to adapt CLASP to introductory courses, such as science.