Diversity at Work

In our diverse world, educational institutions need to foster deep and challenging discussions that prepare students and faculty to leave their comfort zones and explore individual biases and racism.

Dr. Faye Allard, assistant professor of Sociology, and Debonair Oates-Primus, assistant professor of English, set out to do just that during the past two years by integrating diversity into teaching practices and hosting dialogues on micro-aggressions, hidden biases, white privilege and inclusive syllabi. 

“We are changing the conversation on campus,” Oates-Primus said, and they are doing it one uncomfortable conversation at a time. The two created the faculty-led and facilitated Diversity Certificate Program to help teaching methods keep pace with the nation’s changing demographics and divisions. 

Twenty-five different sessions developed for faculty and staff were scheduled throughout the 2017–2018 academic year. Sessions dealt with racial and gender differences, but also aimed to raise sensitivity about students who were visually impaired or on the autism spectrum. “There are so many forms of discrimination,” Dr. Allard said. “The more I learn, the more I realize we’ve got a lot of work to do.” 

A growing body of research shows that students from diverse backgrounds are more likely to succeed when they are taught by faculty who reflect their backgrounds or by those who are culturally agile and competent.

More than 250 employees, the majority of whom are faculty, have participated in at least one session, and at least 70 have been awarded a certificate, earned by attending four or more sessions.

The sessions can be difficult for some. “We have unflinching conversations about white privilege,” Oates-Primus said. “It’s not comfortable, but it’s good our colleagues feel they have a safe space.”

It’s a testimony to the faculty and staff—and to Dr. Allard and Oates-Primus—that faculty and staff continue to attend. “We’ve yet to lose anyone by walking out,” Dr. Allard said.