It’s great that university employees are required to take diversity training beyond sexual assault prevention — but why not students, too?
Diversity training aids in reducing prejudiced and discriminatory thoughts and behaviors towards several groups or individuals that are subject to potential marginalization. It also educates people who might not realize they’re saying something offensive. This includes individuals’ sexual identity and gender expression, not limited to members of the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, it provides education and awareness surrounding issues of racism, and normalizes the integration of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds on campus.
Penn State University’s office of Educational Equity suggests that the majority of reported campus incidents are blatant hate crimes, simply due to the fact that they may be easier for the victim to prove. However, overt and subliminal acts of homophobia and discrimination occur much more often and are almost never exposed publically. Although implementing this training may not end marginalization instantly, the aim is to prohibit such acts, or at the very least make students aware of the serious consequences of their actions toward others, as well as on themselves. In turn, this will aid in students feeling safer in public campus areas, classrooms and other learning environments.
Many students skip the Cougar Welcome skit as the first weekend is extremely busy, or the conversation goes off topic. For those who didn’t attend, an interactive skit is performed during Cougar Welcome weekend, where there is usually an actor obviously portraying an aggressor. This implies that only bad faith discrimination is harmful. The skit itself is often awkward and due to the nature of certain scenes, potentially triggering. Something more structured — and required — would be more efficient.
As employees of The Alestle, we were required to complete the training. The structure itself was minimally interactive, with the five lessons being very easy to skim through and not properly comprehend. A 20-minute to half-hour read could be seamlessly completed in a few minutes by someone who is not interested in the awareness the training aims to provide, or who simply does not want to spend the time on it. If this were implemented toward SIUE students, it is not likely that many of them would be motivated to go through such a task-like format.
Although the content itself touched on most areas of potential discrimination when faced with diversity, it was structured like a terms and conditions agreement, where ‘continue’ buttons are prompted after a mere couple of scrolls. This way, it is easy for someone who is not willing to be educated on diversity to get away with doing just that.
The final certification step requires acknowledgment of completion through a signature, and states that disciplinary consequences in the case of non-compliance with the training’s procedures will occur. However, looking at past discriminatory acts on campus, it could be argued that such warnings are not valid enough of a reason to stop someone from being hateful to others. If the diligence to co-exist with those who are different doesn’t come from a conscious inclination to do so, it is difficult even through threats of personal accountability to prompt that encouragement.
In saying this, we understand that students come from many different social and cultural backgrounds, and it might be hard to come up with one training program that applies to all of them. One solution might be to talk in general about things to avoid saying and common struggles that different marginalized groups experience.
The Harvard Business Review suggests using diversity training similar to an experiment, with a control group, to figure out which methods work best. Additionally, taking pre-tests and post-tests to measure people’s attitudes and self-reported behaviors before and after the training may help to determine its effectiveness.
As students, we often have to engage in class discussions about sensitive topics. It’s important for us to have the skills to navigate these conversations tactfully, and to be able to listen without getting defensive if we are called out for something. Having these skills may prevent students from experiencing microaggressions or even more dangerous actions.
College is a time to meet people different from ourselves and learn more about the world beyond our hometowns. However, it’s hard to do this with bias in the way. Having more expansive educational training may not be the end-all-be-all solution, but it certainly might help.