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New dean, new perspectives

Published on October 22, 2021

Aerial view of University of Washington, specifically "the quad"
Recently, the UW School of Public Health launched the Center for Anti-Racism and Community Health (ARCH), an initiative that will facilitate collaboration, advocacy, & shared decision-making with BIPOC communities. We are excited to see how ARCH can engage with health and equity in cities. Image Credit: College of Arts & Sciences

“I’m an optimist, but also a realist,” says Dianne Harris, who joined the UW College of Arts & Sciences as dean on September 1. Those qualities — and Harris’s dedication to cross-disciplinary work throughout her career — will serve her well as she leads the University’s largest and most academically diverse college.

Harris began her academic journey with a PhD in architectural history from the University of California, Berkeley. Her scholarship, which spans from 18th-century Lombardy to the postwar United States, is united by a sustained focus on the relationship between the built environment and the construction of racial and class identities.

After serving as a professor of architecture and landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she also held appointments across five additional departments and programs and led its Humanities Research Institute, Harris became dean and history professor at the University of Utah’s College of Humanities. Most recently, Harris served as a senior program officer at  The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, developing initiatives and making grants with a social justice focus in support of higher education and the humanities.

In September, as Dean Harris began her new role at the University of Washington, Perspectives editor Nancy Joseph chatted with her to learn more.

Throughout your leadership roles, you have continued to pursue your research. Has your scholarship informed your administrative work in any way?

My scholarship has always crossed disciplinary boundaries. I’m interested in the work of scholars across many disciplines. I think that helps in a role like this. Also, I’ve always been interested in questions of belonging and exclusion, of the ways the built environment helps shape our sense of who we are and where we belong and where we don’t belong, of how it limits life opportunities for some people and opens them up for others depending on their race, class, ethnicity, gender identities, and the intersections of those things. I’ve tried to see who wasn’t in the neighborhood and who wasn’t having access to housing. It trained my mind and my brain to also think about who’s not in the room, who’s not at the table, who’s not on our faculty, where we’re not as accessible as we might be, and to question the underlying systems and structures that create and restrict access. Do I always do that successfully? No. It’s an ongoing project and I think it can be easy for people like me, who are white and have had opportunities, to forget to look for who’s not in the room. For me it’s a constant project and a priority. And it does link my work as a scholar, teacher, and administrator.

Continue reading at UW College of Arts & Sciences

Originally written by Nancy Joseph for UW College of Arts & Sciences
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