By Bill Woodson
Was this one-and-a-half day workshop about cross-cultural dialog? Recognizing unconscious bias? Creating a common understanding of what diversity and inclusion really means?
As much as anything else, it was about having the opportunity to have real conversations, not only among colleagues within an office or a department, but with people from all parts of the campus. And real conversations—not just about the things most of us agree on, but about concerns, opinions and perspectives that normally we might not share, even with close friends.
A major objective of the workshop was to create a sense of safety. Not only to have participants feel safe—but to teach us how to make the people around us feel safe. It turns out that imparting a sense of safety to others is just as much a learnable skill as is learning a foreign language. Luckily its easier than learning Spanish or German. But like a foreign language, it’s a skill that requires practice. Which is why these workshops will be followed by Community Dinner Tables – groups of 6-12 people who will continue to convene and explore themes surfaced during the workshops, as well as new topics of interest to the group. Other plans to sustain and build on the momentum created by the inclusive climate workshops include web-based training tools and new on-boarding practices.
Workshop participant Randy Harrell, Interim Dean of Student Affairs, had this to say:
“The Inclusive Climate Workshop was both personally and professionally beneficial for me in that it allowed me to discover and begin to deal with biases that have been long hidden and thus not effectively managed. It also fostered a level of communication across the College’s organizational structure that up to then I hadn’t seen. The two days were an excellent starting point for the College to begin a new era of open communication and appreciation for the people that comprise our work community.”
Assistant Vice President for Human Resources Loretta Shields observed:
“It is important that we all feel valued and free to express concerns. We must build an inclusive and diverse culture where everyone’s voices are heard, and where we make ‘students first’ our top priority.”
Additional workshops are scheduled for February and March. The February workshop is at capacity, but there is still space available in the March workshop, which is scheduled for the first two days of Spring Break, March 16th and 17th.
As Uneeda Brewer of Accelerate Coaching and Consulting observed, “creating a more inclusive community is not something achieved through a ‘one-and-done’ training event. It’s an ongoing process that requires top down as well as bottom up commitment.”
The next Inclusive Campus Climate workshop will begin Monday February 10, at 1pm and will be held in Sudakoff. The March workshops will begin at 1:00 p.m. as well, and both workshops go for a day and a half, concluding at 5pm on the second day.
— Bill Woodson is Dean of Outreach and Chief Diversity Officer at New College of Florida