Faculty, staff attend University-wide diversity training

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

GW’s diversity office held an event last month to train faculty and staff on how to handle problems minority students face on campus.

The office hosted a diversity summit on May 25 for faculty and staff to discuss ways to support a diverse student body. The training comes after officials spent the academic year identifying strategies to improve resources for multicultural and low-income students, and student leaders recently called for diversity training.

Vanessa Perry, the interim vice provost for diversity and inclusion, said in an email that the summit was an opportunity for University employees to discuss the “best practices in diversity and inclusion.”

“We intend to offer regular training and educational events on topics related to diversity and cultural awareness,” Perry said in an email.

The one-day summit, called “What Does Diversity Have to do with Me?” gave faculty and staff advice on helping students with disabilities, responding to disclosures of sexual assault or bias incidents, engaging multiple identities in classrooms and creating an inclusive environment for students, according to the event’s webpage.

At last month’s Board of Trustees meeting, Student Association President Erika Feinman said one of their goals for the upcoming year was annual diversity training for faculty and staff.

“We feel that with such training our faculty and staff will be able to meet needs of students,” Feinman said at the meeting.

Earlier this year, members of the SA executive cabinet were required to go through diversity training after controversy surrounding funding for the South Asian Heritage Celebration.

Last month, officials hired a new vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement, Caroline Laguerre-Brown. On Aug. 1, she will take over the role, which has shifted to include a focus on community engagement, Title IX and disability support services.

Terri Harris Reed led the Office of Diversity and Inclusion since its creation in 2011 but stepped down in the fall. During her time in the role, Reed focused on hiring diversity faculty but struggled with slowing faculty diversity rates in recent years. Officials have also had to focus on retaining minority faculty.

In November, after students at the University of Missouri protested anonymous online racial threats, students held a protest in Kogan Plaza. University President Steven Knapp released a statement addressing campus climate for minority students, and later called for a D.C. group of colleges and universities to discuss race on campuses.

Experts said events and trainings like the summit can help address the unique needs of minority students, but faculty and staff need long-term support and funding to create a consistently inclusive environment.

Marybeth Gasman, the director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an email that a university’s president and other senior leaders need to be involved in continuing diversity training.

Interim Provost Forrest Maltzman spoke at last month’s event. Other speakers included Rory Mohammed, the Title IX coordinator, and Michael Tapscott and Timothy Kane, the director and associate director for inclusion initiatives, respectively.

“Faculty have to be on board, as they are not prepared at this point to teach a diverse nation,” she said.

Gasman added that campuses are often not ready for increasing diversity, because “they don’t have a diverse faculty to teach students, and they have been resistant to talk about diversity, racism and inclusion” in the past.

Karen Tice, a professor of gender and women’s studies as well as educational policy studies at the University of Kentucky, said it takes more than a summit for faculty and staff to support minority students.

“It’s like, show me the meat,” Tice said. “People get very tired of coming together. What real actions are going to be taken and are they going to be ongoing resources, or otherwise are they just a facade?”

Officials should create ongoing programs and student resources to have a lasting impact on a campus’s climate, Tice said. GW does offer similar programs through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. She added that these are generally expensive endeavors.

With an increasing number of international students at universities, Tice said addressing the topic of diversity is especially vital.

Increasing international student enrollment has been a major goal of GW’s strategic plan for the past three years, with international undergraduate enrollment going from 7 percent before the strategic plan’s implementation to 10 percent last fall, with similar bumps in the international graduate student population.

“We live in a diverse world, therefore any student who graduates from higher education must have awareness about diversity, about difference, about privilege no matter what they do for a career,” Tice said.

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