Artist: Yasmine Awais. untitled (Medicare Bridge). Magazine collage & string. 25 x 29 cm
While scholars and practitioners have argued that we need more diversity in regards to race and ethnicity, tokenization is often the answer by institutions as opposed to embracing indigenous or other viewpoints. In other words, small efforts are made to address multiculturalism, but these attempts are not meant to make true change. Professors of color are brought on to teach multicultural content instead of questioning what is being taught. Institutions slap “diversity” statements on syllabi but do not interrogate curriculum content or consider the voices of the authors presented. While I am a proponent of increasing diversity in art therapy (see Awais & Yali, 2013), the creative arts therapies as a collective, and in counseling, social work, and other fields that aim to teach individuals to practice therapy or otherwise work in communities, I am tired of seeing myself and colleagues being used. Exhausted of explaining how multiculturalism have been coopted – for example hearing the terms intersectionality and diversity, yet not seeing them employed. Instead, I ask programs to evaluate and re-envision their syllabi in addition to hiring more professors of color.
This Citation Challenge series asks professors and students to grapple with the question – What does a reimagined syllabus look like? Whose voices have been silenced? Whose positions need to be amplified?
The Citation Challenge is an effort to consider how we reference our work and to critically look at who is being included and excluded. Sara Ahmed (2017) challenged herself not to cite any white male authors when writing Living a Feminist Life. She originally made this call in her Feminist Killjoy blog post in 2013, where she discussed the politics of citation. This challenge has been picked up by others, including Eve Tuck (2015) who has explicitly asked scholars to take on the Citation Practices Challenge; to “make a vow and make it public”, and to truly reflect on who we include and ignore as we create a course, write a paper, or do any other activity which requires citation. Tuck’s call has been to “stop erasing Indigenous, Black, brown, trans*, disabled POC, QT*POC, feminist, activist, and disability/crip contributions from our intellectual genealogies”.
I learned about The Citation Challenge in a course entitled Fueling Critical Race Scholarship & Undermining Whiteness in Academia. In this course, the professor took the citation challenge, paying attention to the authors who were included and not included in the syllabus. Furthermore, as a class we discussed and questioned the purpose of the readings included in the syllabi, including debating why it was deemed necessary to include the one reading by a white author.
If you are reading this post because you are a creative arts therapist, count the professors of color you had while in your graduate school training. If you had a professor of color, what rank did they hold? What course did they teach? Professors of color tend to hold adjunct or conditional academic appointments, often slated to teach the courses related to diversity. As a master’s student studying art therapy in the late 90’s, I do not recall having one art therapy instructor of color, nor do I recall having any supervisors of color. When I think about my students who are learning about art therapy 20 years after I did, I wonder how different their education is. Who are the authors of the art therapy content they study? In all my years in educational systems (as a student and instructor), I never imagined a course where the readings were not dominated by white voices. In Critical Race Scholarship, I finally had this experience – taught by a white professor trained as a clinical social worker.
I firmly believe that we need more creative arts therapists of color practicing and teaching. However, all professors and students need to look at the canon. This work requires as much attention as hiring instructors of color.
Over the next year, I will be curating a series written by educators and students from various creative arts therapies modalities and specialties on their efforts to critique syllabi and references. I will be asking authors to create a citation challenge for their specific field of creative arts therapy, considering author identities as well as other factors such as locations, individuals/groups/communities being served or researched, and methods (i.e., materials) of treatment and research. Challenges and strategies of how to take up the Citation Challenge, including actual syllabi, will be shared.
Yasmine J. Awais, MAAT, ATR-BC, ATCS, LCAT, LPC is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University. She earned a Masters of Arts, Psychology from the City College of New York, Masters of Arts in Art Therapy from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Bachelors of Fine Arts from the New York State College of Ceramics’ School of Art & Design at Alfred University. She is currently in the doctoral program in Social Welfare at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Ms. Awais is a Board Certified, Registered Art Therapist and Art Therapy Certified Supervisor as conferred by the Art Therapy Credentials Board. She is also Licensed as a Professional Counselor (PA) and Creative Arts Therapist (NY).
Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a feminist life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Ahmed, S. (2013, September 11). Making feminist points. [Blog post]. Retrieved from
Awais, Y. J., & Yali, A. M. (2013). A call for diversity: The need to recruit and retain ethnic
minority art therapy students in art therapy. Art Therapy, (30)3, 130-134.
Tuck, E. (2015, April). Citation practices. Retrieved from