Commitment to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: Enhancing Diversity at WSU and Beyond
Becoming one of seven fully inclusive post-secondary education (PSE) programs in the U.S. and the FIRST in the Northwest demonstrates WSU’s leadership and commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. While “making excellence inclusive” is the guiding principle for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, very few Institutions of Higher Education consider students with disabilities as a part of institutional processes and decision-making around diversity, access, and achievement. Instituting PSE programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) at universities across the country have been found to enhance all students’ experiences, faculty research, outreach, and engagement with communities. Gurin et al. (2002) and the AACU (aacu.org) note that meaningful and genuine experiences with diverse individuals, including those with disabilities, provide learning and democratic outcomes for students, and is critical to the well-being of democratic culture in higher education. Including young adults with IDD on the WSU campus not only provide opportunities for members of the student body to interact with a diverse student population but it also lays the foundation for social relationships and an understanding of diversity for all students. While students in the PSE program will receive academic, vocational, social, and life skill assistance, future educators, doctors, social workers, psychologists, business, and other professionals have the opportunity to build their skills, become more comfortable with people with disabilities, explore their own assumptions and beliefs about disability, and enhance their views of equity and inclusiveness.
A WSU culture based on a Social Justice Model should be focused on access, rather than differences in order to promote disability as an asset rather than a deficit in diversity conversations (Green, Wilis, Green, & Beckman, 2017). With young adults with disabilities comprising an underrepresented and underserved population (Brault, 2012), WSU provides transformational educational experiences for students with or without disabilities by enacting the institutional land-grant mission of access, engagement, and service to society.
Expanding opportunities for research, WSU ROAR is an innovative educational program that advances knowledge through creative research and educational programs across disciplines, meeting the mission and vision of WSU. The research components of WSU ROAR includes testing, applying, and disseminating new assistive technologies; developing innovative curriculum; and identifying best practices for the improvement of community living and participation of young adults with IDD in higher education. WSU researchers will also lead cutting-edge scholarship focusing on preparing future professionals working with people with disabilities or designing innovative environments and technologies from fields such as education, sociology, medicine, psychology, and engineering. WSU ROAR will improve the quality of life for young adults with disabilities, expand individual opportunity, and advance social justice. Finally, WSU ROAR enhances WSU’s mission to advance equity and opportunity for all and promote an informed and equitable society.