The Key to Successful Diversity Training Is Creativity and Flexibility

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More than 80 percent of faculty members who participated in a focus group studying the effects of the Summer Diversity Training Institute at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte agreed that the program positively affected their ability to develop syllabi that included all segments of the student population.

Gloria Campbell-Whatley
Gloria Campbell-Whatley

Gloria Campbell-Whatley, EdD, an associate professor in the Cato College of Education at UNC Charlotte, co-authored a report based on this research titled “The Effects of Diversity Training on Faculty and Students’ Classroom Experiences.” She and her colleagues researched the effectiveness of the university’s one-week diversity training seminar — taking lessons learned from focus groups, participant evaluations, and classroom observations regarding the utilization of strategies — in hopes of implementing similar programs at other UNC campuses.

Launched nearly 10 years ago, UNC Charlotte’s Summer Diversity Training Institute — which ceased after this year but has been adopted by other campuses — accepted between 25 and 40 faculty members each summer. The weeklong seminar addressed ways to ensure classroom inclusion by welcoming speakers to campus who presented strategies for including students of different nationalities, religions, genders, physical abilities, gender identities, and sexual orientations.

In addition, participating faculty members received a stipend — ranging from $680 in the first year of the program to $980 in recent years — to purchase materials to support changes in curricula following the seminar, according to Campbell-Whatley. “Participants actively worked on their syllabi during the week to incorporate lessons learned from a variety of speakers and interactive discussions,” she says.

Although the summer program has been successful at UNC Charlotte — which is why other campuses have considered adopting it — Campbell-Whatley says that because it had been in place so long, the university decided it was time to “do something new” and divert resources into other programs.

While faculty members who teach literature or social studies might find easier, more direct ways to address diversity in their classrooms by teaching specific books or periods of history, Campbell-Whatley says that she was pleasantly surprised to see professors in other academic areas embrace the challenge.

“I observed an engineering class learning about a system that is used globally but is designed differently to reflect other countries’ needs, climate, or geography,” she explains. “I also sat in on an architecture class where the professor presented examples of how the design of buildings throughout history has been used to separate socioeconomic classes.” In both cases, the perspective of diversity in populations, countries, and economies was blended into the curriculum in a creative way that made sense, she adds.

At Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, 1,405 faculty and staff members — representing 22 percent of university employees — have attended Diversity 360, the school’s campus-wide diversity and inclusion professional education program, since its inception in fall 2015. The training is offered as a series of modules, presented by CWRU staff, that can be customized for each department or audience to address inclusion-related topics such as nationality, gender, race, and religion, as well as broader topics such as implicit bias or inclusion in the curriculum. The goal of Diversity 360 is to create awareness of microaggressions and identify ways for individuals to become change agents for diversity.

The program, which is mandatory for members of the leadership team as well as new hires, is also required by some colleges within the university. Faculty and staff for whom the program is mandatory have three years to complete it.

Marilyn Sanders Mobley
Marilyn Sanders Mobley

“We developed this program ourselves using information from campus climate surveys and focusing on the specific needs of our population,” says Marilyn Sanders Mobley, PhD, the vice president for inclusion, diversity, and equal opportunity at CWRU.

She says the university has received positive feedback from faculty and staff.— and very little pushback. In fact, to supplement the initial training module, CWRU launched a Power of Diversity speaker series that features thought leaders, authors, and researchers from outside the university.

While some units request that the training be facilitated at a departmental level, Sanders Mobley says that employees should also have the option of attending “open” sessions that include participants from a wide range of departments. “Some people may be more likely to open up and participate in discussions if they are not with their supervisors or co-workers,” she says.

Although the expectation is that all faculty and staff participate in Diversity 360, Sanders Mobley says that a combination of factors — including society’s focus on inclusion, positive word-of-mouth promotion of the training, and positioning the program as a reflection of the university’s core values — has resulted in CWRU’s success in training such a large number of employees to date.

Sanders Mobley also emphasizes the importance of being “flexible in the design of your program.” For example, while CWRU’s medical school wanted to make the program mandatory for all faculty and staff in teaching roles, the length of the program — three hours — was difficult for them to accommodate, she says. “We looked at shortening the training to different lengths and found that 90 minutes was too rushed and did not allow enough time for interactive discussion,” she says. “We settled on a two-hour program that achieved our goals and fit the medical school’s needs.”

Flexibility to meet everyone’s schedule is the foundation of Brown University’s diversity and inclusion training program as well. University leaders chose not to make the professional development program mandatory because research has shown that requiring such programming leads to a “check-off-the-box” mentality versus full engagement in the learning.

Liza Cariaga-Lo
Liza Cariaga-Lo

Brown University’s approach is to offer a full menu of professional development opportunities that concentrate on diversity and inclusion, says Liza Cariaga-Lo, EdD, vice president for academic development, diversity, and inclusion. The program kicked off in February 2016 with a workshop attended by 650 faculty and staff members, which was followed in the spring by two lectures — each attended by 200 people — that focused on inclusive classrooms and implicit bias.

“A monthly lecture series featuring thought leaders continues and can accommodate larger audiences,” Cariaga-Lo says. “We also livestream the lectures for those who cannot attend in person, and we are planning to offer them as podcasts for replay at any time.”

“We [have] continued our strategy of offering frequent, consistent opportunities to learn and discuss inclusion with a fall series of eight lunchtime seminars,” she adds. “Topics included first-generation students, implicit bias, disabled student needs, and LGBT issues.”

The demand for the lunchtime seminars was so great that the university doubled the capacity from 40 people per event to 80, says Cariaga-Lo. Even with the extra seats, her staff maintains a waiting list for spots, and they are looking into ways of expanding the program.

“We are evaluating ways of offering the lunch-and-learn sessions at our medical school and public health campus, which are separate from our main campus, [as] it is difficult for faculty and staff on those campuses to attend seminars on the main campus,” says Cariaga-Lo.

In addition to the lunchtime sessions and the lecture series, her office is called upon to present department-specific training to address the needs identified by faculty and staff as part of individual units’ diversity action plans. “The issues faced by one department differ from another department,” she says, “so offering expertise in order to tailor training is a critical component of the overall program.”

According to Sanders Mobley, diversity training and the decision of how to implement it — voluntary versus mandatory — must reflect a university’s actual population and diversity needs. “Most importantly, be flexible,” she says. “Every program has a shelf life that will expire; be ready to adapt your program to changing needs.”●

Sheryl S. Jackson is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.