The Center evolved under the leadership of the CSWE Commission for Diversity and Social and Economic Justice (CDSEJ). CDSEJ is rooted in advocacy to retain the visibility and importance of diverse constituents while moving toward increased ongoing understandings of intersectionality. In February 2004 the CSWE executive director and Board of Directors made a commitment to establish a Center on Equality and Social Justice. In May 2006 that vision was further articulated in a proposal by the Steering Committee on the Center for Diversity and Social & Economic Justice with the support of CDSEJ. The original Steering Committee had six members: co-chairs Marcie Lazzari and James Herbert Williams, Mimi Abramovitz, Diane Elze, Jenny L. Jones, and Salome Raheim. By unanimous vote, the CSWE Board of Directors accepted the Steering Committee's plan to establish the Diversity Center in June 2006.

Starting in April 2008 the CSWE Sponsored Diversity Conversations engaged members of the CDSEJ, its councils, and affiliated groups in discussion about the meaning of power differentials; intersectionality, or the overlap of issues facing diverse groups; and the meaning of social and economic justice for all. One of the defining results of these inclusive conversations was Diversity, Critical Multiculturalism, and Oppression: Interaction and Transformation, a report prepared by CSWE Scholar Cathryne Schmitz. As a result of this report, it was agreed that a website would be the best way to realize the goal of an interactive, dynamic, and engaging resource that could remain responsive to the fluid context surrounding diversity and to address the complex issues that face social work educators, students, practitioners, and the population as a whole.

A second Center for Diversity and Social and Economic Justice Steering Committee was established in 2011 and charged with the task of creating the website. That group had 11 members: Mimi Abramovitz, Marcie Lazzari, Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, Jan Ivery, Bernice Liddie-Hamilton, Patricia Saleeby, Cathryne Schmitz, Martell Teasley, Mary Tijerina, Halaevalu Vakalahi, and Hilary Weaver. The website was completed and launched at the 2011 CSWE Annual Program Meeting.

In 2013 CSWE president and chief executive officer, Darla Spence Coffey, convened a new work group to create a plan for the Center (including plans for sustainability and for carving a unique niche among all social work diversity centers) and revise the 2006 concept paper. Members of that group included former and current CDSEJ members Ruth McRoy, Patricia Saleeby, Salome Raheim, and Halaevalu Vakalahi. The work group and CSWE staff updated the Center Concept Paper in 2014.

A search committee, co-chaired by Jenny Jones and Yolanda C. Padilla, was established to identify a Center director. On July 1, 2015, Darla Spence Coffey appointed Yolanda C. Padilla as the inaugural director. An Advisory Committee for the Center was established in 2015.

See the Center's History and Timeline