Inclusive excellence professional development series

Julie Spierer, Special Features Editor

The University aims to be committed to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of campus life. Part of the University’s diversity plan includes the Inclusive Excellence Professional Development Series, which aspires to establish a shared understanding of diversity and inclusion inside the classroom. This 10.5-hour series is aimed at providing faculty and staff with the tools to create a more inclusive campus environment for students of all backgrounds.

The program began three years ago, and Diversity & Inclusion Fellow Dr. Carmen Henne-Ochoa now directs the series on her own. She has trained nearly 500 people across the University, ranging from Public Safety officers to the Library and Information Technology desk employees, to different faculty in academic departments. Once Henne-Ochoa is in contact with an individual from the department, the individual has one academic year to complete the entire training series.

“Faculty and staff interest in the Inclusive Excellence Series is inspiring, and we want to
continue to move forward, especially given the concerns that we have heard from students about
diversity and inclusivity in the classroom,” Dr. Henne-Ochoa said.

“Shared Foundations:” Diversity & Inclusiveness

During the first session, faculty and staff are given an overview of the next four sessions. Henne-Ochoa seeks to establish the ways in which all participants can come together around the common goal of discussing diversity and inclusion on campus.

Participants are given the opportunity to read over the University’s Diversity Statement, which essentially states the University’s commitment to making the campus a more inclusive and equitable place.

“They learn about themselves… part of what our goal is is to turn the mirror on staff and faculty,
and ask what do you see in the mirror?… where do you experience disadvantage in terms of your
embodied positionality, and where do you experience advantage in terms of who you are?…
When we walk into the classroom we bring those advantages and disadvantages with us, and
being aware of this allows us to mitigate some of the biases that come as a result of our different
positions and experiences,” Dr. Henne-Ochoa said.

“Diversity Conversations:” Recognizing and Moving Beyond Barriers

Often people refrain from discussing topics related to diversity, including race, class, sexuality, and gender identity, due to their fear of saying the wrong thing. It is possible to inadvertently offend someone with remarks that could be interpreted as discriminatory and insensitive, even if they were not spoken with bad intentions. These are known as microaggressions and can occur completely by mistake.

The “Diversity Conversations” session explores the ways that stereotypes can inadvertently and subtly arise in conversation and commentary, and articulates more inclusive language for when an individual is unable to completely comprehend different experiences and perspectives beyond their own. The participants will explore the unintended impacts that microaggressions can have on an individual and receive helpful tips to expand their critical lenses for communication and conversation.

“We want to be very honest with people about why it is difficult to have diversity-related
conversations, regardless of the courses faculty teach. Certainly, not every course lends itself to
easily addressing questions of gender or social class or race, and often, faculty don’t feel
equipped or have the tools or the language to discuss difficult conversations and topics. So, when
students bring up difficult diversity-related questions, sometimes it’s easier for the professor to
ignore the conversation, at times for fear of saying the wrong thing or of offending the
students… we go through all of these statements, and ask faculty and staff to think of how these
could be slights and microaggressions to students or their colleagues… we give them tools for
how to move forward if they have offended someone… we talk about the intent and the impact,
and it’s less about the intent, and so we focus on the impact that our words and actions have,” Dr.
Henne-Ochoa said.

“Cultural Competency:” Becoming Fluent, Building Capacity

In order to facilitate a diverse and inclusive campus, all inhabitants must be aware of their own cultural identities and perspectives surrounding difference. The “Cultural Competency” session encourages professors to understand and value the qualities and characteristics that make an individual unique.

In the workshop, individuals define the meaning and importance of cultural competency through interactive exercises intended to help participants consider the intentional efforts that must be made to create a more inclusive campus. The workshop emphasizes that cultural competency is not simply awareness, but rather an active role in creating a more inclusive campus environment.

Q&A: Diversity’s Tough Questions

The workshop encourages asking tough questions whose answers will contribute to accumulating a greater sense of knowledge surrounding inclusion. The practice of question and answer-seeking is indicative of an individual’s hunger for greater knowledge, thus developing cultural competency and playing a more effective role on campus.

Prior to this session, participants are encouraged to anonymously submit questions that will be addressed throughout the question and answer session.

After questions are submitted, Henne-Ochoa sorts through them to compile a panel of faculty and staff from different experiences, fields of knowledge, and areas of expertise.

“People may ask questions like, what is the difference between queer and gay, or why can’t we
wish everyone a Merry Christmas…faculty participants have asked if it’s even possible to really
make change when it seems that universities are built on a particular version of privilege that, to
change, would basically require rebooting the entire institution. I bring together a group of
panelists who give their different perspectives on the questions that were anonymously
submitted. So, on the question of wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, the point isn’t to avoid
saying it but to recognize that not everyone celebrates Christmas… we have Jewish, Muslim, and
other students who don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s about awareness and acting on this
awareness,” Dr. Henne-Ochoa said.

This workshop provides participants with a great starting point to further diversity-related conversations.

“Being an Ally (or Advocate):” speaking up, walking our talk

Campus allies and advocates are the agents of social change. This session aims to educate individuals on what it means to be an ally, and how we can all be allies every day.

The final session allows for participants to think about all that has been discussed and how to put all of the information into practice.

“It’s not about the talk, it’s really about walking the talk. How do I use my privileges to draw attention to injustices and fight for what is right and more equitable, more inclusive?” Henne-Ochoa said.

The goal

The ultimate goal of the series is not just being aware of diversity, but also giving faculty and staff the tools to connect and teach across differences.

For many faculty and staff members, the series is their first exposure to talking about diversity and inclusion. The University has a commitment to serve each and every student, and as the University becomes more diverse in terms of social class, race, culture, religion, geographic region, and more, that means students from all backgrounds must be given the opportunity to thrive.

“We all live in our own bubbles, and sometimes we act in the world as though the world is our
bubble. We need to recognize that we are not at the center and that decentering ourselves,
although difficult, has a lot of benefits. When we decenter what we consider to be “normative” it
means that all of us can be better served, all of us can have a piece of the pie. I think that there are greater opportunities for genuine and deep learning … when we talk about ‘Inclusive Excellence’ we mean everyone, not just some, can have an opportunity at being excellent in the work they do, regardless of what they do,” Dr. Henne-Ochoa said.

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