University News

Brown hosts diversity, inclusion workshops

As part of DIAP, faculty, staff workshops focus on racism, ablesim, LGBTQ, Islamophobia, classism

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Faculty and staff members participate in a diversity and inclusion workshop. Despite being optional, the training program received a large turnout, with some audience members sitting on the floor.

Following the release of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, the University hosted its first series of diversity training workshops Tuesday titled “Unpacking Diversity and Inclusion in the Academy.”

The event was aimed at individuals responsible for undergraduate instruction and co-curricular support. It featured workshops led by faculty members and graduate students that focused on racism, ableism, LGBTQ support, Islamophobia, classism and historically underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The series kicked off with a plenary panel discussion on the DIAP where President Christina Paxson P’19 recounted her own experiences as both a victim and a perpetrator of discrimination. She described encountering daily prejudice as a female college student studying economics. She also described having nearly mistaken an African-American colleague for a caterer during a Faculty Club mixer at Princeton University.

“Implicit biases are alive and well in the academy,” she said, explaining why she saw the DIAP as critical to the progress of the University. She said she saw the plan as the culmination of a two-year effort to increase diversity on campus, which originated with her “Building on Distinction” initiative.

The DIAP allowed the administration to flesh out actionable goals in greater detail than ever before, Paxson said.

“We would not be where we are without the activism of our students,” said Provost Richard Locke P’17.

Locke also clarified that the diversity training was not mandatory as such tactics tended to “backfire.”

Diversity training programs do not often work without willing participants,  Vice President for Academic Development, Diversity and Inclusion Liza Cariaga-Lo told The Herald, citing research published in the Harvard Business Review. Making the training mandatory goes against the culture created by Brown’s open curriculum, she added.

Despite the event being optional, it still received a large turnout. Within 90 minutes of when the invitation was sent out to administrators, faculty members and staff members, the event was full, Cariaga-Lo said. Many people who were waitlisted came to the presentations anyway and sat on the floor when there was no seating available, she added. “It just shows how eager people are to have these conversations.”

To accommodate the high demand for the event, the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion offered each workshop twice over the course of the afternoon,  she added.

In the question-and-answer session that followed the initial panel, an attendee raised the question of whether the administration would consider different, non-data-driven metrics for measuring intangible goals like inclusion.  In response, Locke stressed the importance of listening and bearing witness to the many experiences Brown students, faculty members and staff members had to share.

“Unpacking Diversity and Inclusion in the Academy” is the first step in making an active effort to listen to historically underrepresented groups. Speakers for these workshops were chosen from the pool of individuals who offered feedback during the drafting of the DIAP in the fall. Speakers were given a lot of autonomy in how to structure their workshops, Cariaga-Lo told The Herald.

‘African American Collective Identity and Activism’

Karida Johnson GS and Shamara Wyllie Alhassan GS opened their workshop with a clarification of its title. “We’ve railed against the term ‘collective identity’ because it is too essentializing,” Johnson said, explaining that she preferred their workshop be retitled “African American Experiences and Activism.”

Johnson and Alhassan chose to use the workshop as an opportunity to provide their audience with historical context about black activism. They also used the platform to direct faculty attention toward curricular resources on campus concerning race relations, such as the Slavery and Justice Report or the slave shackle exhibit at the John Hay Library.

Alhassan said that the main objective of their workshop was to unpack the terms surrounding race discourse in the United States so that all attendees felt equipped to participate in the conversation. Alhassan quoted Audre Lorde, an African-American writer and civil rights activist, saying “I am not free as long as one person of color remains chained. Nor is any one of you.”

Johnson emphasized that the African-American struggle was, at heart, an American struggle and that passivity was not an acceptable response to racial hatred. Referring to a video by the Guardian titled “Are you racist? ‘No.’ isn’t a good enough answer,” Johnson and Alhassan drew a distinction between being non-racist and anti-racist. “It’s not enough to be non-racist,” Alhassan said, explaining that people who do not see themselves as racist can still be complicit in racism by virtue of their inaction.

When Alhassan was invited to lead the workshop on the African-American experience, she was excited but reserved, she told The Herald. While she saw the DIAP as a big step in the right direction, she emphasized that the success of the plan depends on everyone embracing this call for change. “Everyone says that we’re a community, but we are not — not yet,” Alhassan said.

‘Islam, Race and American Political Discourse’

Nancy Khalek, associate professor of religious studies, opened her workshop with an anecdote about how she once confessed to a student that she did not know what the term “cis,” short for “cisgender,” meant. “But it’s okay to err; it’s okay to not know when there’s trust,” she said, emphasizing that Brown as a campus needs to cultivate the same trust in discussions around diversity.

Khalek chose to focus on personal narratives within her workshop. She described being congratulated on her lack of an accent and always qualifying her Islamic heritage with, “I’m Muslim, but …” She said a “discerning colleague” made her realize that she was attempting to distance herself from the dominant perception of Muslims in the United States as ISIS supporters.

She also described walking into class after the Paris attacks and using class time to offer her students the opportunity to ask her anonymous questions. While members of the audience appreciated her willingness to engage with her students during class time, faculty from STEM fields pointed out that their disciplines did not offer the opportunity to incorporate discourses on race during class as easily.

In response to an attendee’s comment that some people are attracted to STEM fields because they do not have to deal with issues relating to race, religion and politics, Khalek said, “We are dealing with this whether we want to or not.”

Muslim students are not the only ones who feel marginalized because of their faith, Khalek said. She described the experiences of a white female student who felt alienated on campus because of her strict observance of Catholicism. Students can feel marginalized in ways that are not always obvious, she added.

Takeaways from the series

“The main lesson here is not to make assumptions,” Cariaga-Lo told The Herald. “Everyone here brings valuable experiences, and everyone has something to learn.”

Susan Vieira, program coordinator of international and transfer support, said that she chose to attend the “Islam, Race and American Political Discourse” workshop in an effort to understand the perspectives of the students she meets every day as a part of her job. “I couldn’t imagine having the everyday pressures that these students do,” she said. The talk had given her a better idea of how to start discussions on Islamophobia with her students, Vieira added.

Materials from these workshops will be made available online, Cariaga-Lo told The Herald. The OIDI will also compile data regarding the makeup of the audience in terms of department affiliation.

Though many of the participants found the workshops useful, one suggestion was to integrate more undergraduate student voices.

“I wish there were more opportunities to listen to students themselves,” Vieira said.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that President Christina Paxson P’19 encountered daily prejudice as a female president of a University. In fact, she encountered daily prejudice when she was a female college student studying economics. The Herald regrets the error. 


  1. The term “diversity” unfortunately has been coopted by many activists on campuses these days, particularly at Brown. The fact that there are so few moderate and conservative voices in the student body and faculty is a real concern and deeply troubling. The school has always been known as the most liberal Ivy and that is fine and indeed one of its appeals. What appears to have changed, however, is the disappearance of a strong libertarian presence that is devoted to academic freedom, openness to different ideas, and lively debate.

    It is sad to see that so many in the faculty and administration have a different vision for the school that will further politicize academic departments, encourage division and segregation, and shame those on campus who don’t necessarily subscribe to the latest buzzwords of the academic left. If the school wants to become the left’s version of Liberty University, where students and faculty have to openly profess their ideological purity, that is its choice. However, it will certainly lose much of its reputation and credibility as one of this nation’s top schools.
    For those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them:

    • kizmet paradigm says:

      It’s called “check your privilege white man so sit down and shut up!” Diversity means less white people and only whites can be racist or hateful towards others! They cloak their real feelings of hatred for white people with words like diversity and multiculturalism but the real cultural revolution is the destruction of white supremacy aka mainstream society. It’s a hate group masquerading as a justice movement just as all diversity movements and classes are…ethnic gender Africana degrees are hate the white male hetero clubs! You cisgendered oppressor!

  2. It would seem by the topics covered (racism, ableism, LGBTQ support, Islamophobia, classism and historically underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering and math fields.) that anti-Semitism on campus does not exist or if it does no one cares that it does.

  3. Retard Alert DingDingDingDing says:

    Since when is your religion safeguarded by the academy? Islam, Catholicism – these are beliefs granted no more or less respect than any political ideology. So what if they’re part of your identity – you *choose* them to be part of your identity, unlike your race or gender.

    Forget the systematic subjugation of women by Islam. Forget the rampant homophobia in Christianity (and Islam). Forget also the tremendous antipathy to science, especially evolution and stem-cell research. Your feelings are hurt! Of course, we should not question religion. What a great idea.

  4. Tom Bale '63 says:

    The candor President Christina Paxson shows in revealing herself as a “perpetrator of discrimination” is remarkable. I believe most white people share similar biases that we keep hidden because we don’t want to admit that we might be guilty of discrimination. If the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan is to be successful it will encourage Brown folks to show the same courage that Chris does in her role as leader. Then we will learn to be able to look at someone passing by with a black face and see them as a real person.

    • kizmet paradigm says:

      Only whites can be prejudiced and racists! Shame on ALL white people for having the skin color they do which means violent racist by definition. Think that’s crazy? Nope! That’s what they really believe! That’s what diversity training is stupid white oppressors!

  5. By the way, I can’t find the meaning of ablesim or Islamophopia from the headline? Anyone want to help?

    • Islamophobia means someone who understands Islam.

      An Islamophobe is someone who has taken the time to study Islam objectively.

      An Islamophobe is someone who has read the Qur’an and studied the life of Mohammed. It is someone who understands Islam’s core tenets, including those that insist on Islam’s supremacism over all others, and of Islam’s goal of subjugating all infidels to second-class status, and of Islam’s hatred for individual freedoms, and of Islam’s insistence that Allah’s laws are superior to all and any man-made laws, and that there can never be any separation of mosque and state.

        • “Slay the unbelievers wherever ye find them…””
          The Quran, Verse 9:5About IslamophobiaIslamophobe (is-slahm-o-fohb) – A non-Muslim who knows more than they are supposed to know about Islam.

          Islamophobia is an allegedly irrational fear of losing life or liberty to Islamic rule merely because the laws, sacred texts, and traditional practices of Islam demand the submission of culture, politics, religion and all social expression. It tends to afflict those most familiar with the religion while sparing the more gullible.

          Unlike Infidelophobia (Quranically-inspired hatred and fear of non-Muslims – see 4:101),Islamophobia doesn’t involve dead bodies. But bruised Muslim feelings, according to the teachings of the faith, are more important than the lives of infidels.

          The word “Islamophobia” literally means a fear of Islam, but since Allah himself “throws terror into the hearts of disbelievers” (Quran 8:12) it is used more often in reference to the rejection of Islam.

          In Muhammad’s day, rejection was treated with a practice known as “beheading” (which, oddly enough, results in more fear). Since this is now impractical outside of the Muslim world, the condition of Islamophobia is best addressed by means of prevention. Such preventive measures include taqiyya, political correctness and censorship.

          The fact is that when Islam checks in, a lot of folks wind up checking out… permanently. Therefore Islamophobes are a pretty broad group.

          Islamophobes include:

          Hindus, Christians, and Jews who don’t want to be forced into a political system that treats them as third-class citizens. (Islamic teaching)

          Atheists who want the freedom to live openly and challenge religious orthodoxy in the public spherre. (Islamic teaching)

          Women who don’t want to be draped in black bags. (Islamic teaching)

          Heterosexual males who prefer not to see women draped in black bags. (Islamic teaching)

          Drinkers (this one’s important). (Islamic teaching)

          Artists (not quite as important). (Islamic teaching)

          Historians who don’t want to see priceless manuscripts and books burned just because they disagree with the Quran.

          Homosexuals who don’t want to be beaten to death. (Islamic teaching)

          Anyone else who believes that consenting adults should not be killed or tortured over sexual practices. (Islamic teaching)

          Dog lovers. (Islamic teaching).

          Animal Rights activists and anyone else who is opposed to the cruel and unethical treatment of animals. (Islamic teaching)

          Mothers who don’t want their daughters killed over a man’s “honor.” (Islamic teaching)

          Females who want to keep their clitoris. (Islamic teaching)

          Intellectuals who value freedom of conscience and public dissent. (Islamic teaching)

          Anyone believing that the value of a person’s life is not determined by their religious beliefs. (Islamic teaching)

          Feminists who believe that women should not be made subordinate to men by a religion which openly insists that females are the intellectual and legal inferior of males. (Islamic teaching)

          Anyone else who objects to a religion in which a woman’s identity is defined by her relationship to a man. (Islamic teaching)

          Secularists who belief in the separation of government and religion. (Islamic teaching)

          The left-handed (Islamic teaching).

          Liberals who don’t believe that culture and moral values should be established by a state-sponsored religion. (Get past The Religion Barrier)

          Conservatives who believe in preserving the Western heritage responsible for the civil freedom, political liberty and economic success which has attracted the flood of immigrants from Muslim nations, where such values are conspicuously lacking. (Islamic teaching)

          Muslims who would like the freedom to leave Islam. (Islamic teaching)

          And many more…

      • Thanks Arafat, but Islamophobia is the dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.. But the word in the article is Islamophopia, not Islamophobia.

        • “…prejudice against Islam…”
          You mean prejudice for Islam being what it is?
          Tell us Louis why is it that wherever Islam rules it does so due to Muslim jihadists conquering that land? Are you telling us this is a lie? Are you telling us Sudan was not conquered by Muslim jihadists, but by peacefully converting Animists to Islam? And what of Nigeria today? Are the Muslim jihadists who burn children alive not Muslims? Are they perverting the tenets of Islam?
          And while you are at it, Louis, tell us how Islam came to conquer lands from the Maldives up to NW China and from Indonesia to Morocco? Did Islam accomplish through peaceful persuasion? LOL
          Louis, your make-believe version of Islam might fool yourself, but it flies in the face of any and all facts. I think you need a reality check. You should spend the next six years in six different Muslim countries and then tell us about how peaceful and prejudice-free Islam is.

          • Arafat, I have no idea what you are trying to say and apparently you don’t realize that whomever wrote the headline, either doesn’t know how to spell or proofread.

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