Kristi Henderson
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

KU adds degree in diversity and inclusion leadership

Wed, 12/11/2019

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas has created a new graduate degree to help students acquire the skills to lead and develop diversity efforts in their workplace and other organizations.

A new master’s degree in Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion is being offered through the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The program is designed to offer graduate students and working professionals the tools and techniques to better navigate leadership opportunities within the context of social diversity and equity in the United States.

“There’s a new focus on what it means to have diversity, equity and inclusion and how individuals can show up in those spaces and do leadership work,” said Amy Leyerzapf, director of graduate studies at the College’s Institute of Leadership Studies. “At the time we started this process, there was only one other program in the nation that offered anything similar. We want to be out there, out front, and this is an opportunity to do that.”

A 2018 report from Indeed Hiring Lab found a nearly 20 percent increase nationally in postings for diversity and inclusion positions between 2017 and 2018.

“As the labor market continues to tighten, companies are finding the need to appeal to as many candidates as possible,” the company reported. “To that end, many large companies have started employing professionals that specialize in diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

The new program is designed for recent graduates seeking to round out their skillset before they enter the workforce, mid-career professionals who want to augment their existing skills, university staffers who want to pursue higher degrees to complement their work, and community organizers who work and build knowledge outside the traditional workplace.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are critical areas of importance in the workplace and our communities,” said John Colombo, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. “I am pleased we are providing new offerings to develop professionals’ skills and capacity in these areas, which can be applied at many levels, from interpersonal relationships to advocacy within their organizations and networks.”

Leyerzapf said the degree is designed to give students skills they can apply across a wide range of fields and activities.

“It’s going to fit with whatever that professional thing is that you already do,” she said. “If you want to be the best whatever it is you aspire to be, and you take these ideas of inclusion seriously, this will add value to the technical skills you already have in your professional area.”

She added: “We’re giving you the tools to go into your personal and professional spaces to do leadership work.”

To foster diversity, equity and inclusion among degree-seekers, KU is using a “holistic” admissions approach with broader acceptance parameters than most university graduate programs.

“We don’t require GREs. We’ll take students with GPAs lower than the 3.0 threshold. We look at the potential success, passion for the process, written and oral expression,” Leyerzapf said.

The program offers students resources to prepare for graduate study through KU’s Intro to Graduate Studies course. The course provides refresher instruction on academic skills such as research and writing, so that new students “can be successful even if they’re not staring at the same level as other students in the cohort,” Leyerzapf said.

The Institute of Leadership Studies is presenting the degree in partnership with KU’s Departments of African & African American Studies and Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies, as well as the School of Education.

The program curriculum is drawn from two existing graduate-level certificates— one in Leadership and one on Equity and Social Diversity in the US. The degree will require 30 graduate-level credit hours, with coursework consisting of both face-to-face and online classes. To graduate, students must pass a final oral exam, and defend a final semester “capstone” project that allows them to demonstrate how they have integrated and synthesized the knowledge gained during the program.

More information on the program is available at

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

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