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Dr. David Shih receives 2020 MLK Social Justice Leadership Award

| Denise Olson

For more than a decade, Dr. David Shih has taken leading roles in campus efforts to promote equity, diversity and inclusion at UW-Eau Claire and in the greater Chippewa Valley. He has led with passion, insight and personal experience that propel his drive to better this community on a daily basis. 

David Shih

Dr. David Shih

On Feb. 5, at UW-Eau Claire's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, Shih, an associate professor of English, was presented with the university's 2020 Martin Luther King Social Justice Leadership Award. The award recognizes a campus community member who has demonstrated an exceptional ability to advocate for underserved and underrepresented groups and who leads, organizes and engages the community in the difficult work of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) through their voice, vision and actions.

Shih, a member of the English faculty since 1999, has been a continual leader in efforts at UW-Eau Claire to institutionalize antiracist policies and practices. The concept of antiracism is one that elevates the notion of being inclusive and "nonracist" to an active role of exposing and resisting racism at both the individual and organizational levels. This antiracist mission is an essential element of meeting the institutional EDI goals and stated benchmarks for creating a more diverse campus. 

"While the goal of racial diversity is, in my opinion, our biggest challenge at UW-Eau Claire, the reality of our situation has also laid the groundwork for much success. That is, it is impossible for us to confuse diversity with equity as more integrated campuses might. Daily, we see the challenge before us with our own eyes. 'Equity,' therefore, has become part of our institutional vernacular, making it that much more possible to work together building the just system to attract greater diversity," Shih said. 

Beginning with a co-chair role for a critical early step in EDI, Shih's vast contributions to campus EDI efforts are hard to quantify, but some of the major contributions include the following: 

  • Shih served in 2008 as co-chair for UW-Eau Claire's Equity Scorecard initiative, which normalized the institutional culture of disaggregation of student access and success measures by race. It introduced “equity” as a concept and aspiration in higher education policy whose currency has since become mainstream.
  • In 2009, Shih was appointed the university’s first EDI Fellow, overseeing the direction and progress of the Equity Scorecard, presenting its findings to faculty colleagues in all four colleges and across the UW System. He organized a comprehensive campus climate survey for students, staff and faculty. Shih led various campus efforts to transition from the UW System’s “Plan 2008” 10-year diversity plan to its successor, “Inclusive Excellence.”
  • Shih chaired the College of Arts and Sciences Diversity Advisory Committee, whose signature initiative was “Dismantling Racism,” a multiyear, anti-racist professional development program for College of Arts and Sciences faculty that later expanded to include students, faculty and staff from all parts of the university as well as the local community.
  • From 2010-12, Shih served as UW-Eau Claire’s Faculty Fellow for Multicultural Learning as part of the university’s Title III grant to reform general education, leading efforts to include an EDI learning outcome and associated rubric for all students that included knowledge of systems of privilege and oppression based on group identity. These efforts continue through CETL training as part of the campus EDI Implementation Plan, presenting Tier I and II training on affirmative action, racial terminology and critical race theory.
  • Shih played an essential role in the establishment of a Critical Hmong Studies Program on campus, serving in 2013 on the Hmong Studies Steering Committee and later chairing the search committee for a successful 2016 tenure-track faculty hire in the field. Shih teaches a Hmong Literature course as part of the program.
  • In 2018, Shih was the first recipient of UW-Eau Claire's Excellence in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award. See related story

While many of Shih's major accomplishments in the advancement of EDI on campus took place at administrative and policy development levels, face-to-face personal interaction with students is a cornerstone of his work. 

"Working with students to build capacity for EDI has been a very important part of my professional life," Shih said. "This happens in every class that I teach, with first-year students all the way to graduate students. I have advised the Dismantling Racism student organization and served as instructor and advisor to the Social Justice Living-Learning Community. I present regularly for OMA-sponsored programming, including multiple student-organized and -run diversity conferences hosted at UW-Eau Claire."

Along with students in his classrooms and presentations, Blugold faculty, staff and administrators owe a debt to Shih for his leadership in countless difficult and often uncomfortable conversations in topic areas meant to challenge beliefs and stereotypes, identify privilege and prejudice at work, and push this institution further along the path toward antiracism.  

Provost Patricia Kleine recognized right away Shih's unique ability to connect with audiences of all types, delivering a message that resonates and has the power to elicit meaningful change. 

"I was instantly struck by the infectious manner through which Dr. Shih engages students, faculty and staff in crucial conversations around issues of race and social justice," Kleine noted. "I have personally been a ‘student’ in EDI sessions in which David challenges participant assumptions and encourages self-reflection on new knowledge around critical race theory. Whether he is conducting a training/class or being interviewed on public radio, David Shih impresses students and all other audiences with his calm, non-dismissive approach to addressing questions raised by supportive and skeptical participants/listeners alike." 

In addition to his direct impact on campus through teaching, training and administrative committee work, Shih's efforts in the city and surrounding area are helping to solidify the university's role as a leader in antiracist community building. 

"I have endeavored to bring antiracist learning to the local community, region and state," Shih said of his outreach in places like the L.E. Phillips Public Library, the Unitarian Universalist Church in Eau Claire, the City of Madison Common Council, the Wisconsin ACLU, the State University of New York System and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. His media appearances and publications have included various shows on Wisconsin Public Radio and National Public Radio, and many of his works have been cited in or published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, U.S. News & World Report, Code Switch, Newsweek Middle East, Ed Week magazine and more.

While positioned as an academic expert about racism for good reason, that expertise has not insulated Shih from the realities of racism in his own life, a life as a Chinese American who has walked that cultural space "between black and white," as he puts it. Helping others to live in their reality as it relates to race in America is a gift that UW-Eau Claire is grateful David Shih has been so willing to share. 

"Since college, I’ve been lucky to meet a handful of people — some at and through UW-Eau Claire — who, quite simply, saved my life. They did so by teaching me to see the world as it really is and not as it was for me. It would have been easy for someone like me to live in the world of myth, and as a certain kind of Asian American, I am asked to do so daily. The title of “social justice advocate” can be a misnomer because the journey of becoming free must begin and end with yourself. That’s a lesson I try to pass on to others, my students especially, at the very same time I try to live it."  

Top photo caption: Dr. David Shih received the MLK Social Justice Leadership Award on Feb. 5 from last year's award recipient, Dr. Rose-Marie Avin.