Expanding the Circle: Infusing Inclusion Into All Educational/Training Programs by Kathy Obear

“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.” Helen Keller

A few months ago I wrote an article for the inaugural edition of the (soon to be released) Iowa State e-journal, Journal of Critical Thought & Praxis (JCTP) http://www.elps.hs.iastate.edu/sjjournal.php, where I shared my thoughts on the past 30 years of social justice education: Reflections on our practice as social justice educators: How far we have come, how far we need to go. In this blog I want to dig deeper into one specific area of how far we need to go: developing internal capacity of all student affairs practitioners to address issues of diversity and inclusion in their trainings and educational programs.

As I visit colleges and universities across the nation I am delighted that an increasing number have a small cadre of people who facilitate workshops on diversity, inclusion and social justice for the students, staff, and faculty on campus. While there is still much work to be done to ensure that all campuses have a vibrant, competent diverse group of students, staff and faculty who can challenge participants to explore the dynamics of power, privilege and marginalization in stand-alone single-issue sessions or workshops that explore the breadth of intersecting identities, I believe a critical next step is to develop the competency of all student affairs practitioners to infuse issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion into their daily work activities. In this piece I focus on weaving the key concepts and skills of inclusion throughout all of a division’s training and development programs. In a future blog I hope to discuss ways to infuse equity and social justice throughout the policies, practices, programs, and services of all student affairs departments.

I love this African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” We need to mobilize a far wider range of student affairs practitioners in order to attain the student development goal of providing students the depth of self-awareness, skills, and competencies to effectively lead and work in increasingly diverse, global communities. Attending a few diversity workshops and completing several classes that center social justice in the curriculum will not be sufficient for most students. It is critical that all student affairs staff demonstrate the capacity to train and teach about inclusion in most every educational opportunity they offer. When students experience a consistent, seamless set of skills and concepts about inclusion, they will more likely deepen their ability to create organizations and participate in communities that both values diversity and eliminates differential treatment based on group identity.

A couple years ago, key leaders at The University of Minnesota, Duluth launched an innovative two-tiered approach to creating equity on campus. Their goal was to develop the capacity of student leaders, staff, and faculty who interact with new students by enhancing their ability to create safe and welcoming spaces where all students are treated as respected and valued members of the community. They identified 25 staff and faculty who train these student leaders, staff and faculty from a variety of departments, including, First-Year Seminar, Residence Life, Student Activities, Career Services, Admissions, Athletics, and Academic Affairs. I partnered with the organizers to design a 4+ month process to increase the ability of staff and faculty to infuse issues of inclusion and diversity into training and coaching sessions with those who work with new students*.

This program had four phases:

  1. Pre-work: Participants reviewed articles and sample lesson plans/handouts for foundational diversity/inclusion activities, and completed a comprehensive self-assessment of their design and facilitation skills.
  2. Facilitator Development Workshop: Participants completed a 16-hour training session where they deepened their capacity to design and facilitate learning opportunities that addressed issues of diversity and inclusion.
  3. Core Group Work: Participants met several times in small groups after the development workshop to share their draft designs and ideas for infusing diversity into their training sessions for staff, student leader, and faculty; group members offered feedback and explored additional ideas and approaches.
  4. Virtual Training/Discussions: Participants met with me over Skype to debrief and discuss the impact of their sessions and to identify next steps for continuing to infuse diversity and inclusion into their work with those who work with new students.

An additional aspect of this program was the collaboration with the College of St. Scholastica. Several staff from this small, liberal arts college also participated in the process. In the summer of 2012 the colleges sponsored a similar program for another cohort of 25 staff. Overall outcomes included the increased ability to infuse issues of diversity and inclusion into trainings and coaching sessions by:

  • Talking about the college’s/university’s commitment to inclusion and diversity in their training and coaching sessions
  • Helping participants recognize the breadth of differences on campus and the dynamics of privilege and marginalization that impact student success
  • Leading conversations that identify common microaggressions and ways to interrupt exclusionary behaviors
  • Engaging participants in discussions about their role in creating an inclusive campus environment for all students, staff and faculty

I believe both schools have significantly increased their internal capacity; in addition to having some staff and faculty who facilitate social justice trainings, they each now have others who intentionally weave issues of diversity, equity and inclusion into a wider variety of educational/training sessions, including new student and faculty orientation, leadership, conflict management, admissions practices, faculty development, athletic coaching practices, health and wellness programs, interfaith activities, career development workshops, and judicial board training. Students, staff and faculty are hearing a more consistent message about equity and inclusion from multiple sources. I feel excited as I imagine the possibilities when a critical mass of 50+% of all student affairs staff have developed the capacity to weave inclusion into all of their programs and workshops.

This type of initiative on its own will not result in creating sustainable campus change. Yet, I do not believe any campus can truly create an inclusive campus environment without the majority of student affairs practitioners intentionally and consistently infusing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion into their daily practices. Redesigning all trainings and educational programs to address issues of inclusion is one critical step in any overall campus change process.

*For greater detail, I recommend reading a series of blogs I wrote on “Infusing Diversity into Everything We Do” (http://drkathyobear.com) where I outline four layers for infusing inclusion into any type of meeting, course or training session.

I welcome your comments and thoughts!

Connect with Kathy on Twitter at @kathyobear or on E-mail at kobear@earthlink.net.

Dr. Kathy Obear, President, ALLIANCE FOR CHANGE Consulting, www.allianceforchange.com, and Founding Faculty of The Social Justice Training Institute, www.sjti.org, has over 25 years experience as a trainer and organizational development consultant specializing in creating inclusion, team and organizational effectiveness, conflict resolution, and change management.

Earlier in her career Kathy worked in Student Affairs at several colleges, including Colorado State University where she coordinated leadership development and educational programming. Since starting her consulting business in 1987, she has given speeches, facilitated training sessions, and consulted to top leaders at hundreds of universities across the United States and internationally designed to increase the passion, competence, and commitment to create inclusive, socially just campus environments for all members of the campus community.

Originally published on the CSJE Blog on Tumblr.

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