This academic year marks the pilot year for Diversity Edu, an online program consisting of modules relating to diversity and inclusion, on SIUE’s campus. The program covers topics such as microaggressions. It is accessible to new faculty, new staff and students enrolled in the first year transition seminar.
Venessa Brown, associate chancellor for the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and chief diversity officer at SIUE, said the Diversity and Inclusion Institutional Leadership Team brought the program to SIUE in hopes of helping newcomers understand the university’s mission of inclusivity.
“We wanted to make sure that every student that came, every new employee, every new faculty understood that SIUE lives its core values, [of] diversity, inclusion and citizenship, and one way to do that is to implement something like Diversity Edu, where everybody is getting the same content, information and really saying that we are an inclusive campus,” Brown said. “We are working to really be an inclusive campus community where everybody’s’ voice is important, everybody matters, and this just helps to do that.”
Chancellor Randy Pembrook said such diversity and inclusion initiatives are vital as SIUE sees individuals from roughly 60 countries and between 40 and 50 states on campus within any given year. Given this, he said SIUE is encouraging community members to think from different perspectives by implementing Diversity Edu.
“I think that Diversity Edu is kind of meant to remind people that there are different cultures and different ways of thinking about things,” Pembrook said. “Ultimately, I think if people are reminded of that, if they think about that in the interactions that they have, they might not expect that people would have exactly the same perspective, and they might think about how to have a conversation with someone from a different culture about an issue and try to find some commonality in that discussion.”
According to Brown, the pilot consists of two courses: a First Semester Transition course for students and one for new faculty and staff. Students who are taking FST 101 will go through the modules as part of the class’ curriculum.
This translates to roughly 1,800 new students who will participate in the online modules each year, and approximately 250 new faculty and staff members, according to brown. But the team hopes to expand beyond these numbers, as the program will grow each year as more newcomers navigate through the modules.
“If it works, then we’ll do 1,800 students again and we’ll do 250 faculty and staff again until in three years, we’ll build a capacity and it’ll spread like wildfire,” Brown said, “People will really know that this is SIUE, that when you walk on this campus, this is an inclusive campus community and that you matter.”
Even though the modules are part of the FST 101 curriculum, they will be accessible to both these students and new faculty and staff throughout the year. Brown said the chancellor and other administrators, as well as deans and department chairs, will have access to the modules as well. Brown is also hoping to have resident assistants use the modules.
According to Brown, the team did not want to label the modules as mandatory, as she said research has shown making training in diversity and inclusion required does not necessarily yield the best results. In response, her and the rest of the team wanted to hone in on the accessibility of the piece and not present it as a requirement.
“Our goal is to make information available to them and accessible, and if people decide they’re not going to do it, there’s nothing we can do about it, but we want to know as an institution that we’re doing all we can to make things available and accessible to them,” Brown said. “We really want to send a clear message that this is who we are as an institution.”
Brown also said allowing community members to have this year-round access to the modules makes it a success.
“I think it works in the mere fact that it’s accessible and there’s conversations,” Brown said. “What we hope is that we see the change as relationships build. We see the change that when freshmen come through the next year to be sophomores that we’re retaining those students because they know they belong here.”
Interim Assistant Provost Jessica Harris said students will also have chances to participate in conversations related to the material outside of the classroom and beyond the computer screen.
“It’s also important to note that they’ll have a chance to, in addition to talking to each other in class and their faculty members, there will be chances for them to continue some of these conversations in the residence halls and also in the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion,” Harris said. “Those conversations will be moderated by other peers.”
The team decided this year to implement Diversity Edu beginning this semester. According to Harris, one major factor in their decision to implement Diversity Edu was that it can help people grow personally and professionally through self-reflection. Harris also said a big deciding factor was that the program is backed up by scholarly research.
“One of the good things about Diversity Edu … is a lot of scholars, particularly in the field of diversity and inclusion work and broad social science backgrounds, were really a part of putting together the modules and developing the content,” Harris said. “So, it’s certainly backed up by scholarly research, which is really important to point out.”
For more information about the initiatives taken by the Diversity and Inclusion Institutional Leadership Team, contact Venessa Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.