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Updated Diversity Blueprint Emphasizes Indigenous Communities and Place Based Learning

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Dianne Harris 11/01/2022

As an architectural and landscape historian and as someone who at one time (briefly) practiced as a professional designer of the built environment, the word “Blueprint” holds particular resonance for me. Now a largely obsolete technology, blueprints were commonly generated and used by architects, landscape architects and planners--the people who design places--before the advent of digital technologies. They resulted from a process in which a drawing made with ink or graphite on a translucent surface such as vellum or mylar could be run through a machine and exposed to an ammonia solution and light to reproduce the drawing on light-sensitive paper. Digital technology has rendered this printing process obsolete, but the term “Blueprint” lingers in our vernacular, used to signify a plan that can direct us, to show us the way forward. That is precisely the intent behind the University of Washington’s Diversity Blueprint, a document that provides a framework for our entire campus and a set of actions we can take towards becoming a more equitable, inclusive, accessible, and just university.   

Given my professional and scholarly background, I was particularly pleased when the University of Washington Diversity Blueprint was updated this year to include a new, 5th section with an emphasis on place. As the new section indicates: 

“The University must provide all students, staff, and faculty with opportunities to better understand the environments in which their learning and work lives take place. In particular, the University must rigorously explore its histories of racial, ethnic, and other forms of exclusion and actively engage the histories of the diverse communities within which its Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma campuses are located.” 

Understanding our place at the University of Washington means, among other things, moving beyond land acknowledgements. As Goal 5 of the Blueprint urges, we must “Develop understandings of the histories of the three UW campuses that directly address issues of Indigenous sovereignty and issues of access, equity, and inclusion for underrepresented and minoritized communities, and incorporate these understandings into relevant curricula and programming.”  

Given the historical and geographic context of our UW campuses, place-based learning offers an incredibly rich opportunity to teach and to learn about the past, present and future of all members of our community--especially but not exclusively about those of American Indians--through deep examination of histories that have been erased, suppressed, or hidden but are nevertheless embedded in the land and in the waterways through and around which we daily move.   

As a historian whose strongest scholarly commitments of the past 25 years have been to the study of race and the built environment, Goal 5 generated a powerful moment of recognition and resonance for me and a sense of excitement as I began to see the pedagogical, curricular, and research possibilities embedded in all it directs us to do. Like the architect’s blueprint it recalls, Goal 5 of the Diversity Blueprint provides guidance about and the broad outlines for a way to build the future.  Our location in the natural and cultural landscape of the Pacific Northwest is a truly distinctive aspect of the University of Washington and the College of Arts and Sciences.  It reminds us that we have an obligation to teach all our UW students about the ways history and place are intertwined, that exclusion and belonging, opportunity and disenfranchisement, equality and discrimination are all fundamentally rooted in the spatial realm.  

In 1962, James Baldwin famously stated “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” The Diversity Blueprint’s new section asks those of us who are not members of the Coast Salish community to confront our status as uninvited occupants of this land and astutely invites us to consider the ways place can teach us about race, exclusion, and inequality so that we can work towards a more just world. It offers a rich opportunity for all of us at UW to honestly confront the past by looking closely at the ways our interactions with the lands we occupy can help us better understand possible and better futures.  

The College of Arts and Sciences is uniquely positioned to do this work because of the breadth and depth of the disciplines we house. Our location--situated in a global city within the astonishingly beautiful, complex, and fragile Pacific Northwest--shapes us and our communities both near and far in ways that require our attention. Goal 5 of the Diversity Blueprint offers a compelling challenge and a compass to help us navigate by pointing to that which makes us distinctive, and with which we must reckon. In CAS, we’ll be looking to engage deeply with our place, to learn and confront our past and to work resolutely toward repair. We may not yet know exactly where this work will take us, but I look forward to watching and supporting as our faculty, staff and students dig even further into this remarkable place we call ‘home.’  

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