University News

Brown trains faculty, staff on diversity, inclusion

Professional development workshops, departmental DIAPs aim to foster intersectional understanding

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion kicked off a series of voluntary faculty and staff trainings last spring.

The professional development trainings were informed by student feedback on the working draft of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. Upon the working plan’s release last fall, students called for “programs to promote cultural competency and foster a safe learning environment for all students, staff, faculty and administrators at Brown,” according to the plan.

The lineup for the professional development workshops began with the introductory workshop “Unpacking Diversity and Inclusion in the Academy” Feb. 23, which over 650 faculty and staff members attended, said Liza Cariaga-Lo, vice president for academic development, diversity and inclusion. Immediately following were two large lectures by leaders in issues of diversity and inclusion, each attended by over 200 people, which respectively focused on inclusive classrooms and implicit bias inside and outside of the classroom, she added.

A December series on structural racism, a January series on social justice education and a summer series on understanding culture, race and difference also took place so community members could “have every opportunity to take advantage of these sessions,” Cariaga-Lo said.

Though the trainings are voluntary, they were all very well attended, as some people were even turned away, Cariaga-Lo said. Students initially petitioned to make the trainings mandatory, but the University cited leading research from Harvard suggesting that mandatory training programs surrounding diversity and inclusion are less effective ­­— and can even backfire — because they force people to “check off boxes” rather than engage with the material of their own volition, Cariaga-Lo said.

“It’s a little bit like the open curriculum. When you can study something you want to study, you’re likely to get more out of it than when you have to study it,” said Dean of the College Maud Mandel. “It’s the philosophy of the University, but it’s also grounded in evidence from people who have studied these mandatory training programs,” she added.

James Valles, professor of physics, who attended the spring workshops, said they had an immediate impact on how he teaches and approaches the student body. Specifically, the training on implicit bias “makes you reflect on how your experiences can differ from the students’ experiences,” Valles said.

But the professional development trainings are just “the first of many” initiatives intended to help faculty members “understand fully the experiences of our students who bring multiple intersectional identities to the table,” Cariaga-Lo said.

In addition to the broad trainings for all faculty and staff members, the OIDI has collaborated with the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning to provide as-needed departmental sessions on inclusive pedagogy, Cariaga-Lo said. Departments such as history have taken advantage of these opportunities to provide classroom training for their teaching assistants and faculty members, she added.

Mandel pointed to the individual departmental DIAPs as an additional framework for professional training on cultivating inclusive curricula, pedagogical and hiring practices and departmental culture. Because each department is responsible for creating its own plan to foster inclusivity from the perspective of its own discipline, “there are lots of different ways faculty (members) will be teaching with these practices,” Mandel said.

The OIDI will also continue to offer professional development training sessions in the future, with a series of eight lunch sessions this semester. Topics for discussion will include everything from understanding LGBTQ, transfer and first-generation college student experiences to thinking about exclusive pedagogy and intersectionality of identities and their relation to classrooms and advising situations, Cariaga-Lo said.

Valles is confident the trainings will generate many potentially uncomfortable but necessary conversations about issues of power and privilege in the coming years.

“I’ve enjoyed — and (have) been made uncomfortable by as well — the trainings and other things associated with diversity and inclusion,” Valles said.

“I hope folks understand that the DIAP process wasn’t a moment in time, but an ongoing commitment of the University,” Mandel said, adding, “If there were a few trainings last year, it was just the beginning of a University commitment on all fronts.”