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Director looks to build University of Wyoming Social Justice Research Center

Bringing people together

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Social Justice Research Center

University of Wyoming elementary and early childhood education professor Kate Muir Welsh poses for a photo in her office in late February. University of Wyoming’s commitment to social justice was one reason Welsh accepted a position as a faculty member in the College of Education in 2002, and now she will be able to continue that commitment as the director of UW’s Social Justice Research Center.

The University of Wyoming's commitment to social justice was one reason Kate Muir Welsh accepted a position as a faculty member in the College of Education in 2002, and now she will be able to continue that commitment as the director of UW's Social Justice Research Center.

Welsh replaced Francisco Rios earlier this year as the second director of the center, which was started in 2007 through an endowment fund from an anonymous donor.

The concept of social justice grew from the civil rights movement. Research in the area is concerned with social group identities, hierarchies and the forces and institutions that support inequality or unequal social relationships.

Welsh defines social justice as minimizing differences in power between groups.

"That can happen person to person -- you can work to minimize power differentials -- and it also has to happen on a societal level," she said.

Welsh, who earned a doctorate in education from UCLA, has a background in science education and has taught in public schools and in regional and national parks. In the College of Education, she taught students how to teach math and science.

She traces her passion for both public education and social justice to the influence of her family.

"My family was very involved with what I now know are social justice issues," she said.

Growing up with a brother with autism, she watched her mother fight to make sure all students had access to public education.

"From that, I was inspired by the importance of education and how I believe education can lay the foundation for success in life," she said.

Welsh became involved with the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice a few years after moving to Laramie, chairing the organizing committee from 2008-10. When Rios left UW to become dean of the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University, becoming the director of the Social Justice Research Center seemed like a logical step, she said.

The research center is dedicated to promoting scholarship that has a social justice focus among faculty, staff and students. It provides grants to fund such research as well as a location on campus where people can connect and find support.

In the past, Welsh has conducted her own social justice scholarship, leading a reading group with teachers and working with teachers on setting up classrooms that are fair to all students.

"Those small grants can have a large impact," she said.

The center also brings speakers to campus for public lectures and classroom visits.

Angela Jaime, the current chair of the Shepard Symposium and a member of the center's advisory group, said the center also has an advocacy role on campus.

"If there are social justice injustices on campus -- things that are happening that shouldn't be happening in a social justice setting -- it's there to help question those boundaries," she said.

Welsh said she'd like to expand the center's advisory board to include more representatives from campus groups.

She also has plans to bring people together on a more regular basis, perhaps as part of a reading group. Long-term, she'd like to see the center have statewide influence.

Through all her efforts, she wants to build community and strengthen collaboration across campus.

"I think there's much more power in multiple voices and diverse voices than there is just from me," she said.

Jerry Parkinson, a professor in the College of Law and another member of the advisory board, said Welsh is a good fit for the position.

"I know her commitment to social justice and her organizational skills and her energy, and I know she's going to be terrific," he said.

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