Sept. 22, 2011Vol. 42, Issue 1

CSU, Chico’s First Diversity Academy

‘You have to go there, to know there.’

She quoted a line from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, “You have to go there, to know there,” and described how that relates to diversity work: “We can get into a situation where we have a person designated to deal with diversity on campus, but the point is that we all have to ‘go there,’ to immerse ourselves in diversity work. Diversity work is work we all have to do.”

And for eight days this summer that’s exactly what 25 staff and faculty did. At CSU, Chico’s first Diversity Academy, they immersed themselves in the theories and complexities of diversity and social inequality, discussed ways in which those inequalities are present on campus, and explored ideas for strengthening diversity efforts at the University.

The academy was designed to help them transform curricula, as well as extracurricular and cocurricular activities and professional interactions, “around issues of difference, power, and discrimination through critical examination of systems of oppression, group process, curriculum transformation, and pedagogy,” according to the syllabus for the intensive seminar. Participants were asked to critically evaluate their own disciplines and units from a diversity perspective, and exercises helped them examine their own prejudices and privileges.

Reading assignments included bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress and the anthology Readings for Social Justice and Diversity. Discussions drew on participants’ own experiences on and off campus. Interactive activities and discussions gave faculty and staff opportunities to experience what hooks calls “liberatory pedagogical practices,” approaches to teaching that address connections between what students learn and their life experiences and that are suited to diverse classrooms and campus work environments. This requires that teachers understand the different ways students learn and adapt their teaching to offer multiple opportunities for understanding.

Tracy Butts

Butts invited Professor Susan Shaw from Oregon State University to lead the academy after attending Shaw’s presentation at the 2010 American Association of Colleges and Universities diversity conference. CSU, Chico’s Diversity Action Plan calls for infusing diversity into the curriculum, and Butts and conference attendees Sandra Flake, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; Drew Calandrella, vice president for Student Affairs; Tray Robinson, diversity coordinator; C.C. Carter, director, Cross Cultural Leadership Center; and Meredith Kelley, vice provost for Enrollment Management felt that a summer academy was a good way to begin to address this.

“Once we took a close look, there’s more diversity in the curriculum than many of us realized,” said Butts, “but we still need to learn how to talk about diversity issues more effectively, inside and outside the classroom. Just because we include diversity issues in our classes and in our work environments, we shouldn’t assume we already know everything there is to know.”

There are varying levels of awareness on campus, she said, “and we hope this academy helps establish a community that makes a more complex conversation about these issues possible.” These conversations could include continuous examinations of university curriculum and teaching practices, hiring and promotion practices, institutional hierarchies, tensions between faculty and staff, building accessibility, and biased language. They could happen in both formal and informal settings, from campuswide committees to daily interactions among colleagues. Appropriate changes in these areas could make our campus a more comfortable and productive environment for every student, staff, and faculty member on campus.

Butts believes it is important to have both faculty and staff involved in diversity efforts on campus. “Unfortunately, we often think that faculty are the only ones who teach our students,” said Butts, “but everyone who works on campus has a responsibility to teach. Staff often give presentations in classes, for example, and they work with students every day. We need to acknowledge that work more.”

Dawn Frank, violence prevention response coordinator for Safe Place at CSU, Chico, and a co-facilitator at the academy, agreed. “Opportunities for both faculty and staff to engage in a process such as the academy are rare. Witnessing folks exchange ideas, experience revelations about the diversity of the human experience by shared personal stories, and walk away with new strategies to impact positive change as well as new friendships was a one-of-a-kind experience on our campus.”

Butts described an important outcome of this first academy. “People developed a level of comfort and trust that allowed for greater self-reflection,” she explained. “It’s not just about learning about other people; it’s also about understanding ourselves better.”

During the academy most participants reported gaining a greater awareness of their privileges—the advantages that just being male, or white, or middle-class, or able-bodied give each of us. “For me,” said Butts, “I recognized the privileges I have as a member of the middle class.”

For Admissions Evaluator Jennifer Duggan, participating in the academy was “the most valuable professional development opportunity I’ve experienced.” She explained: “I made significant connections with faculty and staff members. I also gained a greater understanding of the social and cultural conditions that influence the academic needs of under-represented students. This will allow me to better serve nontraditional college-bound students and help them find a greater sense of belonging within the University and the Chico community.”  

photo of Diversity AcademyJack Hames, Finance and Marketing, said the experience gave him tools to recognize and address inequities that affect student learning. “After completing the Diversity Academy, I am updating my instruction on topics that explicitly touch on differences in power,” he said. “That's the easy part, but I will also walk into every classroom with my eyes opened to how historical practices are present today in filtering our expectations of each other. I now have the tools to explicitly recognize and address inequities that affect student learning.”   

“I never expected the Diversity Academy to change me as a person,” said Deanna Pierro of the Student Learning Center. “I thought ‘Sure, it will give me some insight. I’ll get some good information.’ But I never thought ‘Yeah, I’ll leave the Diversity Academy a changed person’—but that’s exactly what happened!”

 Diversity Academy Class of 2011

Vicky Bass, Kaitlyn Baumgartner, Patricia Black, Stephanie Chervinko, Elise Cole, Tamra Donnelly, Jennifer Duggan, Caren Fernandez, Jack Hames, Molly Heck, Casey Huff, Linda Kline, Pamela Morrell, Deanna Pierro, Jodie Rettinhouse, Tray Robinson, Rich Rosecrance, Diane Schmidt, Adrienne Scott, Teri Todd, Mary Wallmark

Facilitator: Susan Shaw, Oregon State University

CSU, Chico Co-facilitators: Dawn Frank (Safe Place), Kate McCarthy (Religious Studies), Elizabeth Renfro (Multicultural and Gender Studies, retired)

The Diversity Academy’s Objectives

1) develop best practices for synthesizing diversity in curricular, co‐curricular, and extra‐curricular activities;

2) develop a shared understanding of diversity and increase competencies in our educational offerings and diversity efforts;

3) cultivate interests in applied research and funding opportunities in the field of diversity studies; and

4) establish an ongoing community discussion in which issues related to diversity can be addressed among colleagues across disciplines and divisions.