Keeping it okay to be different

Associate Professor Dana Lee Baker will be receiving the university’s faculty award for diversity this year for her work in advocating for people with disabilities on campus. This award is given for “distinctive and outstanding teaching, research, creative work, service or outreach by faculty that advances diversity in the university and the communities it serves.” Baker is an associate professor and associate director for the college of arts and sciences. Baker also holds positions within the College of Arts and Sciences as an associate director of academic advising and students, and as an accreditation and assessment coordinator for the program in public affairs. Baker is a diversity faculty fellow, conducting projects focused primarily on neuroethics and neurodiversity. Another of her roles is service on the diversity council, a group which she was once chair of.

The award for diversity is not the first award that Baker has received in recognition for her work.  She has received six additional awards, including having been given the Woman of Distinction certificate of recognition in both 2009 and 2012. She has both published and co-published 21 peer reviewed articles, six book chapters and has published one book while working on her second, titled “Neuroethical Policy Design: Lifetime’s Exploration of Public Policy and Human Brains.”

Apart from a great many other achievements and services she has provided, Baker is well known for her work on campus, which involves students with differing or alternate abilities. One project that she is involved with is Disability Awareness Month. This campaign works towards educating students and faculty alike on campus about students with differing abilities, and the discrimination they face both on and off campus. Baker works to get students involved with the campaign through educating and creating awareness about it in her classrooms. By creating in-class projects for students that focus primarily on people with differing abilities, students attain a greater understanding of not only people with alternate abilities but the resources that are available to them as well. An example of past problems was that, less than a century ago, there were “ugly laws” which made it illegal for persons who were determined “unsightly or disgusting” because of their disability. Baker also brought up the example that students in wheelchairs were removed from public schools at one time because they were considered fire hazards” by the school districts.”

Baker is an advocate for public service, and through each of her classes she works not only to educate but also to foster an ideal of public service on both campus and local communities. Baker sees public service as anything performed by individuals or groups of individuals that directly benefit the public or the institutions within society, and that anyone wishing to pursue a career that encompasses public service deals with committing their life towards creating a better and more equitable society. From a very young age, her parents made it a point to ensure that both her and her siblings understood that inequality was an “unacceptable condition of society.” In reflecting upon them now, Baker says, “I have accumulated so many positive experiences in terms of working towards social good, public good, that I just cannot imagine doing anything different.”

In each of her classes, Baker leverages her experience in public service and activism to share her experiences to her students. Her work in doing so while still diving into research and projects has won her recognition both from her peers and from WSU Vancouver itself.

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