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College seeks to lead efforts to diversify museum workforce with new joint master’s degree

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

LAWRENCE — The creation of new joint degree puts the University of Kansas at the forefront of the push to address the lack of diversity in the museum workforce in America.

Beginning in fall 2019, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences will offer a joint master’s degree in African & African-American studies and museum studies. Designed to enhance and diversify opportunities for graduate students, the program will prepare students for a career in the cultural heritage field as specialists in African & African-American studies.

According to a 2015 report from the Mellon Foundation, non-Hispanic white staff still dominate the jobs most closely associated with the intellectual and educational mission of museums. The report also asserted that “the nation will need more programs that encourage students of color to pursue graduate education in preparation for museum positions.”

“Museums aspire to be places where a diversity of ideas, experiences and expressions can be explored,” said Director of Museum Studies Peter Welsh. “For this aspiration to be realized, the field needs well-trained professionals with the range of backgrounds and perspectives that are reflected in the broader community — which hasn't been the case historically. Our program enables students to acquire expertise simultaneously in museum studies and African and African-American studies in just three years. In this way, our graduates are perfectly poised to become leaders in this rapidly evolving field.”

In addition to helping diversify the field, the degree pairing will train students to recognize how power differentials and social hierarchies affect their work.

“This joint program will foster critical knowledge of and facilitate creative approaches to museums' institutional histories and future directions,” said Jessica Gerschultz, director of graduate studies for African & African-American Studies. “It will assist students in understanding and addressing how race, gender, class and nationality are entwined with museums as social institutions.”

Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a faster-than-average growth rate of 13 percent for museum workers.

“In our global world it is essential that museum studies specialists understand that objects in museums are rarely if ever neutral,” said Cécile Accilien, African & African-American studies acting chair. “They should be able to have engaging dialogues about how these objects were acquired and in what context. They should also be able to engage with museum studies from historical, social, gender, geopolitical, economical and postcolonial studies perspectives.”

Housed in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the joint degree will require just 54 credit hours compared with the combined 67 credit hours required to complete each program separately.

Students seeking admission for the joint degree must apply to both the museum studies and African & African-American studies Master of Arts programs. Those who have already been accepted into either program can apply for joint-degree status prior to completing all course work required for their first degree.

The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences is KU's broadest, most diverse academic unit, made up of more than 50 departments, programs and centers.