‘We’re positioned to do this work’: Candidate for fine arts dean talks breaking down barriers


Mia Hennen

Wanda Knight speaks to students, faculty and staff at a public forum on May 1. The forum was held for individuals to learn more about the candidate for the fine arts dean.

When talking about the potential of the College of Fine Arts at Wichita State, Wanda Knight said she leads from the perspective of a giraffe, not a turtle.

Knight, a candidate for the fine arts dean, visited Wichita State Monday and Tuesday to talk about what she’d bring to the university. Her presentation featured a story about a giraffe, its home, and an elephant friend.

“In Wichita, Kansas, a giraffe had a new home built to the standard specifications, with elongated doorways, soaring ceilings,” Knight said. “High windows ensured maximum light and good views for the giraffe and his family. Narrow hallways saved valuable space without compromising convenience.

“One day the giraffe, while working work in his backyard, happened to look down the street.  Coming … was a wide, stout elephant.”

Knight’s story discusses what happens after the giraffe invites the elephant into his home. The home, built for a giraffe, cannot accommodate the elephant. 

The candidate for dean compared this story to Wichita State. The university, deemed the “most diverse university” in Kansas, is currently on track to becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution by 2030, a designation reserved for institutions with 25% of the population identifying as Hispanic.

“There’s some implications for you becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution — the house wasn’t built for these people and other underrepresented groups when you think about it historically,” Knight said.

Knight said the arts are specifically equipped to “break down” or “dismantle” barriers for historically underrepresented groups of people. 

“Diversity exists in all cultures. Diversity challenges us to see others and ourselves in different ways. Diversity helps us face difficult truths. Diversity provokes. Diversity inspires. Diversity reveals what is hidden. Diversity tears down barriers,” Knight said. “Substitute the word ‘diversity’ for ‘arts,’ and you’ll see the same.

“We’re positioned to do this work.”

A proponent of DEI, Knight said she has a track record of making a difference in higher education.

“Currently, I’m working on an engineer, STEM-focused campus, and I’m still able to weave those threads of diversity throughout there,” she said.

One point of Wichita State’s “strategic plan” focuses on “student-centeredness,” which Knight said aligns with her goals as an educator.

“People will say to me, ‘What do you teach?’ I say, ‘Smart students,’” Knight said. “They expected me to talk about a subject, but I put students first.”

Knight currently serves as an art education professor and assistant dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Pennsylvania State University. She also serves as the president of the National Art Education Association, a group for professional art educators.

If selected as dean, Knight said she would focus on promoting the four different schools within the College of Fine Arts together.

“I don’t look at these as separate kinds of things, they’re all parts,” she said.

To learn more about the candidate, her cover letter can be viewed here

Students, faculty and staff can fill out a survey about Knight here. The survey closes on May 4.