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July 20, 2021

SIU establishing new doctoral fellowship program for equity and social justice in education

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — This fall, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s School of Education is launching a new doctoral fellowship program with an emphasis in educational equity and social justice.

“The program’s fellows will be prepared as scholars to address structural inequalities in educational settings and devise and assess programs and practices that can lead to improved educational access and provide better and more equitable educational opportunities and success for all students,” said School of Education Dean M Cecil Smith.

The new program is a response to the diversity, equity and inclusion challenges Smith and his colleagues have observed in the world and the nation.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we as the School of Education at Southern Illinois University Carbondale respond to the issues of structural racism?’” he said.

“We want help address those issues in our country, and we believe we can do that by capitalizing on our strengths. One of the best ways is to prepare scholars to study problems and prepare policies to dismantle the causes of those problems.”

About three to five fellows will be selected each year, with the option of earning a Ph.D. or Ed.D. Smith said that while there are a small number of university doctoral programs focusing on equity in education, SIU’s is distinctive for two reasons:

  • The participating students will be fellows with full financial support for up to three years.
  • The program will take advantage of the university’s location as a rural higher education institution. As schools in rural areas are becoming increasingly diverse, Smith said, the need for emerging scholars and leaders working to assure educational equity in various forms is especially great.

The fellowship will train scholars, teachers, human resource specialists and administrators for diverse careers in education, research and government agencies.

Smith and Kathryn Sime, director of development for the School of Education, have worked together to secure funding, which includes tuition waivers, scholarships and employment as graduate assistants. In addition, the fellows will receive training in preparing grant applications.

Smith said the new fellowship program is part of a more far-reaching “grand vision” he and others have for the School of Education. That vision includes an educational policy center to focus primarily on issues related to rural schools, diversity and equity. For instance, he pointed out the disparity in school funding between various school districts across the state and the country. He said the goal would be for students to get involved in the center and its work, helping find solutions to the disparities and inequities within schools.  

An SIU tradition

The new doctoral program is both timely and necessary, as well as a natural step for the historically diverse SIU, according to Smith.

“Inequities in access to education, adequate funding and highly skilled, high-quality teachers remain a barrier for large populations throughout the United States. Racism, sexism and discrimination persist despite decades of legal and public policy initiatives and social activism,” he said. “As a result of those iniquities, gaps exist between different groups of students, both in terms of access and achievement.”

He noted that SIU has a long history of embracing diversity and it is only fitting that the university be part of the solution to closing gaps and eliminating disparities.  Founded in 1869, SIU’s inaugural 143-member class included two Black students. Today, minorities are nearly a third of the student population and the university consistently ranks among the nation’s top institutions of higher learning for the number of degrees awarded to students in ethnic and racial minority groups.

Comprehensive course of study

Smith said the coursework for the program will cover teaching and research, along with educational systems and social learning theories. It includes a teaching apprenticeship with the focus on teaching diversity issues in education or the University 101 course.

Topics include:

  • Educational equity and access.
  • Gender, race and ethnicity.
  • Disabilities and neurodiversity.
  • Multicultural education: global/comparative/international education, anticolonialism.
  • Public engagement and advocacy.
  • Narrowing of achievement gaps.
  • Evidence-based policy and practice.
  • Democracy, diversity and social justice.
  • School culture, language policies, social and political contexts of schooling.

 “The main thing I appreciate about this program is the opportunity to academically and financially support students in becoming critical educators and researchers,” said Saran Donahoo, director of graduate studies and college student personnel and professor of educational administration and higher education.

To find out more about the new fellowship or to apply, contact Donahoo at