As a new group of freshmen gears up to enter the University of Minnesota this fall, the Office for Equity and Diversity is trying to make their first time on campus a more welcoming experience.
After more than a year of offering diversity training workshops for University students, staff and faculty, OED is working to expand by training Welcome Week and Orientation Leaders.
“We’re trying to get more student voices into the workshops,” OED Director of Education Anne Phibbs said. “We would love to see more graduate and undergraduates involved.”
More than 800 people have attended Equity and Diversity Certificate Program workshops since its creation in spring 2012, but students make up a small portion of them, Phibbs said.
The full certificate program includes 10 three-hour workshops on topics like race, disabilities, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. Participants develop skills to work and communicate across those differences, Phibbs said.
“One of our central frames is that diversity is everybody’s everyday work,” Phibbs said.
When participating in the basic and advanced certificate programs, Humphrey School of Public Affairs senior academic adviser Katherine Murphy said she noticed fewer faculty members than staff attended and even fewer students.
Most of the students in the workshops were graduate level, Murphy said.
‘A safe space to share their thoughts’
Phibbs presented OED’s introductory workshop to the Welcome Week leaders in April.
More than 400 students participated in the workshop, said Jenny Porter, University Orientation and First-Year Programs associate department director.
Orientation Leaders learn about equity and diversity issues during weekly spring semester courses. The 28 students helped Phibbs facilitate discussions during the Welcome Week leader workshop.
“People don’t want to say the wrong thing, so they don’t say anything at all,” Porter said. “[The training] gives them a safe space to share their thoughts.”
University biology senior Margaret Shevik — a Welcome Week leader for the third time — said the training workshop was a great experience for students to share stories about when others made incorrect assumptions about them.
“I think there are a lot of instances where the freshmen feel uncomfortable or unsure of where they fit in,” Shevik said. “I think it’s a great way to welcome everyone and get used to an including environment.”
The workshop helped Shevik feel more prepared for this fall’s Welcome Week than the previous two, she said, and she’s interested in attending more.
“Diversity is something that’s very essential for our campus community,” she said. “Understanding that not everyone is just like you is very important, and I think this training did a great job of that.”
Since the program is relatively new, trainers are still changing the way workshops are run based on participant feedback, said Kimberly Hewitt, director of the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action — one of the program’s 15 trainers.
Workshops are offered year-round and continue to fill up, Phibbs said.
“The fact that people continue to register tells me that we’re doing something good,” Phibbs said.