Chico State newsletter celebrating campus diversity fall 2012

Diversity Academy Promotes Best Practices for Faculty and Staff

By: Jillian Luchsinger
group photo

Members of the summer 2012 Diversity Academy cohort.

This summer marked the second annual Diversity Academy, an intensive and interactive program for faculty and staff that addresses a wide range of topics relating to diversity.

The Diversity Academy supports the priorities of the Diversity Action Plan by encouraging university faculty and staff to practice cultural sensitivity and build a more inclusive campus. Sponsors of the academy include the Office of the President, Academic Affairs, the Cross Cultural Leadership Center, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Enrollment Management.

Goals and Expectations

During the eight-day program, faculty and staff are encouraged to learn and discuss ways of integrating the best practices into teaching, professional activities, and services on campus.

In the classroom, participants are guided through conversations and activities that help examine their own prejudices and biases and how these affect the way they do their jobs.

Tracy Butts, chief diversity officer, has attended the program twice, in summers 2011 and 2012.

“One of the goals of the academy is to evaluate how we are better able to empower students,” Butts said. “We want to teach them to become more active students, and be in charge of their own learning while also fully realizing their potential,” she added.

Linguistics professor and ESL Resource Center Director Saundra Wright attended the Diversity Academy in summer 2012 to gain a wider perspective of diversity. Although she regularly deals directly with language diversity and cultural differences, she wanted to learn more about diversity of all types.

“While I hoped my expertise as a linguist might be beneficial to other participants of the Diversity Academy, my main interest in participating was to gain a better understanding of—and appreciation for—what diversity really involves,” Wright said.

The experience had the potential to help in her professional pursuits as well as her personal pursuit to become a better advocate for diversity on campus, she said.

Course of the Program

To start off the two-week program, participants are given a syllabus with required reading. In keeping with Chico State’s commitment to sustainability, all participants are given iPads and digital access to the course material.

Participants are instructed to write an “impressions autobiography” their first day to explain their attitudes about race, class, gender, and sexuality in order to better evaluate where they stand at the start of the course and to help connect with others.

Sue Peterson, a faculty member of the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, also attended the Diversity Academy this summer.

“The interaction with the cohort was truly meaningful to me,” she said. “It has highlighted similar concerns and frustrations, but more importantly has offered a method of engaging in a process to change those things that are concerning or frustrating.”

Each day of the Diversity Academy, participants watch movies, engage in interactive conversations, participate in role-playing, and discuss how the required readings relate to the activities.

“What I learned most from this experience was the importance of active involvement,” Wright said. “While I’ve always cared deeply about the struggles and issues that students from diverse backgrounds face, after being in the academy, I now realize how important it is to act on those concerns.”

The Diversity Academy has attracted a wide variety of Chico State faculty and staff. In summer 2012, the program grew to include 23 representatives from various services on campus such as the Wildcat Recreation Center and the Admissions Office, as well as departments including nutrition, Academic Publications and Scheduling Services, and many others.

In order to participate in the academy, faculty and staff must go through an application process and receive permission from the chair of their department.

Building Relationships

In addition to facilitating an environment in which participants can freely evaluate different aspects of diversity, many walk away from the experience with valuable relationships with new peers.

“The Diversity Academy brings together people from different parts of campus and the community that wouldn’t usually interact,” Butts said. “They improve on professional connections, and we found that we missed each other after being together all day for eight days.”

Creating new connections with faculty and staff was the highlight of the program for many of the participants.

“I feel like I’ve not only made some great friends, but I’m now fortunate to be part of a wonderful support system,” Wright said.

The success and feedback the program has received from the past two years provide encouragement that it will continue in the future. Many of the participants have found successful ways to implement what they learned at the Diversity Academy into the way that they teach and work with peers.

Following the program, Wright became involved with putting into place silent protests to the “angry preachers” on campus and began working with students at the ESL Resource Center to create a meditation or prayer room after a few international students expressed concern about inadequate space on campus to pray.

“I’ve even found myself making changes in ways I present information in my classes,” Wright said. “When I choose images for PowerPoint slideshows, I make sure to find images that showcase people of different ages, abilities, racial, and cultural backgrounds.”

Peterson also has plans to alter her assignments to be more inclusive and to allow students to discuss their background and cultural differences with each other.

“It is easy to fall into a rut where you do things the way you’ve always done things and do not ask questions or challenge yourself to do more or do better,” she said. “I took away that desire to do more and do better.”