University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Master’s Program Teaches History of Diversity to Improve Equity

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The Diversity and Equity in Education master’s degree program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign coaches educators on how to ensure all students are taught in settings that are culturally responsive and free from bias.

The program approaches diversity in a complex way, using practice and research to delve into subjects including intersectional perspectives, diverse leadership, and social and historical barriers to education.

Faculty leader Cris Mayo, PhD, has been involved in the program since it began 10 years ago. She says that the majority of students who enroll come from teaching, counseling, and administrative backgrounds and hope to use the degree to achieve promotions or to transition into diversity-related positions within public school districts, higher education, or charter schools.

“Our students are very committed to social justice in education when they come in, and we want them to leave knowing the fuller history of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, and language diversity in public schools,” Mayo says.

The program consists of eight courses, including three core ones that cover diversity and leadership; disability and equity; and the impact of race, gender, sexuality, and other aspects of identity on education. In addition, students are required to take two foundation classes — one on social and historical barriers to education and one in educational psychology. The final course can be chosen from three electives.— Global Studies in Education, Learning Design and Leadership, or Bilingual/ESL.

Since its inception, 200 students have graduated from the Diversity and Equity in Education master’s program. In addition to this degree, the university offers a similar certificate program, which only requires three courses.

“[Our graduates],” Mayo says, “are the kind of teachers, counselors, and school leaders who are already making a difference and want to get more information on the long histories of struggle in education [and] updated pedagogical approaches.”