Photo: Rain on Red Square at the UW Seattle Campus, March 4, 2014. Photo by Katherine B. Turner, UW Marketing

A quarterly newsletter for ISS students, alumni, faculty, and staff
                     Vol. 2, Issue 2                Winter Quarter 2019


Image: Front Cover of Ralina Joseph’s book Postracial Resistance from NYU Press

Ralina Joseph: Negotiating Identity in the Online Environment

Dr. Ralina Joseph, who has helped make vital issues connected to racial and cultural identity key elements of ISS thematic courses, recently published her second book, “Postracial Resistance: Black Women, Media and the Uses of Strategic Ambiguity,” exploring how and why Black women define and perform identity and resist the myth that racism no longer exists. Drawing from her own experience as a faculty member at a large university, Dr. Joseph explains in book’s preface, “I learned how to be strategically ambiguous; I learned how to foster my own communities; I learned how to by my tongue in certain spaces, and sing freely in others.” In this interview with ISS, she answers questions about identity negotiation, power, privilege and resistance in an online learning environment.

Q. What opportunities and challenges do online forums offer as students reflect on social and cultural identity and equity?

A. My first response is that online forums are really how many folks engage with these issues on a daily basis, whether or not they are enrolled in a program like ISS. As opposed to interpersonal interactions, online spaces might feel safer for people to think through their own power, privilege, and the impact of their racialized identities...although unfortunately online these types of engagements are often flat and one-way instead of truly dialogic.  So I would say there are opportunities to explore in your own way, and on your own terms, but that the challenges are that the nuances that might emerge in a face-to-face conversation are harder to come by. 

Q. In an online environment, how do microaggressions play out? How might participants in online forums best identify and resist microaggressions?
A. Online environments are rife with Microaggressions!  Simply expressing anti-racist sentiment, for example, will often make you the target for a troll.  Lots of folks have great suggestions for how to resist trolls (check out this podcast episode for some great ones), but the best advice I've heard comes from UW Journalism professor Andrea Otanez: ignore 'em.  

Q. Do you see strategic ambiguity reflected in the work of your ISS students as they negotiate identity?
A. Absolutely. Strategic ambiguity is a necessity for minoritized people when we are entering unfamiliar realms.  We need to couch aspects of our identity in order to maintain a safe sense of self. Now it's definitely not the only tool, but it's one that many students must use as online spaces are racially stratified, just as in person ones are - and students are keenly aware of that fact.

Q. What advice do you have for ISS students as they reflect on their own cultural and racial identity?
A. My advice for students as they reflect on their own identities is to simply let themselves be open.  Identity, as Stuart Hall famously wrote, is a construction that is always in process.  We all need to allow ourselves to experience the multiplicities of that process.  We need to be able to take stock of our privileges, and think through how we might work to leverage them for good, and of the ways in which we are minoritized, and what strategies we need to combat our oppression.  Only through careful reflection of our identities can we come to these answers!

Dr. Joseph is currently teaching COM 489, Black Cultural Studies, a course she designed for ISS. In addition, she’s a professor for the UW Department of Communication, the founding director for the UW Center for Communication, Difference and Equity, and author of Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial.

Portfolio Voices

Books line the shelves in Suzzallo Library. Photo by Katherine B. Turner

Lauren McGhee, Recent ISS Graduate

The Integrated Social Sciences program has encouraged and enabled me to examine the world around me and reflect on my own experiences in it through a social science lens. Early on, we were asked to choose keywords that we would revisit throughout the program, adding and changing them as our educated minds continued to expand. The keywords I chose were “multiracial” and “feminism,” two words that hold more weight now than they did when I first selected them.

I am a mixed-race woman, and I am continuously searching for my truth and reality while redefining and fighting the boundaries and barriers society has set up for people like me. A term I came across while reading pieces written by Kimberle Crenshaw was intersectionality, which provides an approach to social issues with consideration of social groupings such as gender, race, and class. It was as if this word had been on the tip of my tongue my whole life, but I always had a hard time describing why my experience of sexism was different than a white woman’s experience, or why I felt further behind, even though I thought I was fighting the same fight as other women. 

After taking classes in women’s health, black cultural studies, and anthropology, I am more aware of societal patterns and systemic dilemmas and have more tools to break these cycles, specifically by connecting people and offering a different perspective. Recently I have volunteered for organizations dealing with mental illness and hunger, and have invited friends and coworkers to join me in these activities. I have always tried to be an open-minded individual, but what the ISS program taught me is that it is only through sharing these experiences, approaches and ideas with others that society can grow to be more connected and understanding of other people's hardships and successes.

There are still days where I feel defeated because a man talked over me or someone says I can only be half offended by a black joke. But most days I feel empowered because I know more about the society and about myself.

I recently graduated from the ISS program at UW and intend to go on and get my Master’s in Social Work. I long to be able to provide insight from my own experience to people who are struggling with their identities and empower them to value themselves and use their unique voices in a world that often tries to silence our realities. 

ISS Innovations: Study Abroad!

Interior of Suzzallo library, globes hanging in the graduate reading room, University of Washington Seattle campus, December 26th, 2013. Photo by Katherine B. Turner

Mel Wensel, ISS Co-Director 

ISS students may now participate in UW Faculty-led Study Abroad Programs!

This means that some of you may have a wonderful new opportunity for earning credits toward your degree while engaging in first-hand learning about new places and people. This is a great way to more fully realize the emphasis on global awareness and cultural competence of ISS.

But you may not know what a “UW faculty-led” program means. These are not exchanges with foreign universities, but rather courses taught by UW faculty in a wide variety of countries.  Sometimes the programs are hosted at a permanent site, such as the UW Rome Center, and other times the faculty rent classroom space and arrange homestays with host families. All students earn credit for specific UW courses, so there are no issues regarding “transferring” credits. 

There are a variety of timelines that programs run on, so it can work for a variety of schedules and time commitments. For example, many faculty-led programs operate during the short, four-week Summer A or B terms (either mid-June to mid-July, or mid-July to mid-August). Others run during what’s known as Early Fall Start, which is basically the month of September before Fall courses begin. 

If you’re interested in exploring study abroad options, search for programs by term. And remember that your financial aid award may be applied to cover study abroad expenses!

Aimee Kelly, Joe Hannah, Mel Wensel, and Judy Howard at the 2019 UW Legislative Preview. Photo by unknown kind stranger.

The University of Washington recently hosted the 2019 Legislative Preview with the theme “College IS for Everyone: Making the Case for Higher Ed.” The January 10 preview included two different panels, one with higher education representatives, including UW President Ana Mari Cauce, and the second with state representatives. Audience members posed many different questions, ranging from topics like the affordability of higher education to support resources for underrepresented populations. ISS Co-Director and Director of Academic Services Mel Wensel, Assistant Director of Academic Services Aimee Kelly, and Academic Adviser Joe Hannah attended the event and were pleased to see our founding Dean, Professor Emeritus Judy Howard.

The highlight of the evening was to hear President Cauce recognize the work Integrated Social Sciences is doing to expand access to a University of Washington Bachelor Degree. When asked about the role of online education at UW, she had this to say:

“...We also have… a program that I am really proud of – [it] started about five years ago and it has already been ranked number two in the country – which is the Integrated Social Sciences Program. [ISS] was meant directly for people who have the equivalent of an AA [who] then can complete their degree online. We had first thought of it primarily as for older students that had been out for a while, but we now have about 300 students that came straight from community college but that, you know, moving someplace else wasn’t possible, then they completed [their bachelor’s degree] online.”

It is important to note that ISS was the only UW program mentioned by name by President Cauce during the panel discussion. College IS for everyone, and online programs like Integrated Social Sciences make it possible to expand access to a college degree. We are proud to be a part of that work at the University of Washington!

Did You Know?: Exploring Race and Ethnicity Data

When students apply to the University of Washington, the information they enter on their application about race and ethnicity is stored in the student database (SDB). This information is used for external reporting, retention research, and to determine the kinds of programs and resources that need to be offered to support our students. Integrated Social Sciences also asks questions about race and ethnicity on our Incoming Student Survey that students complete in their first quarter.

Quantifying a complex aspect of identity such as race and ethnicity presents many challenges. One of those challenges is that many survey questions track information about only one ethnicity, disregarding the representation of individuals with mixed race and ethnicity. UW recognizes that people have multiple and complex identities and by 2009 retrofitted the SDB to try to capture that reality. However, to satisfy federal and state reporting, they also maintain a “single ethnicity” for each student. This is determined by an algorithm and reflects that ethnic identity from among those chosen by the student that is least represented. (For example, if a student identifies as Native American, Black, and Caucasian, their “single ethnicity” is algorithmically set to “Native American.”) Using the “single ethnicity” designation, UW identifies those students who identify as “underrepresented minorities” (URM) based on federal reporting rules.

When we looked at student-reported data stored in the UW student database, we found that ISS students reported 43 different ethnicities--this included students who enrolled between Autumn 2014 and Summer 2018. We’ve also looked at the number of underrepresented students who have enrolled in ISS. Based on this data, about 16.7% of our alumni come from an underrepresented racial background, and 18.6% were still working toward degree completion as of Summer 2018.

Under-represented Minorities (URM)*



Grand Total


195 (83.3%)

39 (16.7%)


Not yet graduated

319 (81.4%)

73 (18.6%)


Grand Total

514 (82.1%)

112 (17.9%)


*URM = Federally recognized underrepresented minority populations (African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Latino).

In ISS, we recognize that this complex issue of identity and ethnicity can never be captured in simplified statistics, and in fact such record keeping can, in some instances, perpetuate institutional racism. However, we also live and work within a system in which such reporting is necessary. In future newsletters, we hope to explore other aspects of our students’ demographics and identities.

ISS Bulletin Board: News, Events, Announcements

Our community of students, alumni, faculty and staff are up to great things! If you have an update you'd like to share, please email us!

Upcoming Deadlines
  • 2018-2019 ISS Graduates: Save the Date for the ISS Graduation Celebration, 10:00 AM - 12:30 PM, Sunday, June 16th.
  • Registration for Spring 2019 courses begins February 15th. Review our Registration web page for details.
  • Keep an eye on the academic calendar for important Winter Quarter dates.

Helpful Resources​
ISS Faculty in the News
  • Core faculty Dr. Sara Vannini presented Privacy and Security Guidelines for Humanitarian Work with Irregular Migrants and “When words become unclear”: unmasking ICT through visual methodologies in participatory ICT4D  at the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, January 2019.
  • Professor of Sociology and ISS faculty member Alexes Harris was featured in UW’s Faculty Friday, for her book A Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as Punishment for the Poor.
Innovative Online Staff
  • ISS Librarian Reed Garber-Pearson co-facilitated a workshop on transgender inclusion for the American Library Association Midwinter Conference, January 2019.