Many of us in Student Affairs agree that diversity is a worthwhile topic for training and dialogue, but how many of us are ongoing agents of developing diversity competency in ourselves and our students? Diversity competency is an imperative for everyone to develop. Our local, regional, national, and global societies are increasingly multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-lingual. We and our students cannot avoid encountering difference, no matter where we live, nor pretend that our lack of understanding of diversity is acceptable. With the summer staff training season upon us, I have a workshop I’d like to share with you that is largely based on the book “35 Dumb Things Well Intended People Say” by Dr. Maura Cullen. I first heard Dr. Cullen speak at a conference I attended many years ago as an entry level-professional, and I was immediately fond of her and her message. So much of what she describes in her book resonated with me, and perhaps those of you who have read her book or heard her speak feel the same way. And maybe it’s just me, but I get the impression sometimes that many general practitioners in the field of student affairs still don’t feel comfortable educating and training around diversity issues, perhaps because they are afraid they will reveal vulnerabilities and ignorance they don’t want to admit out loud. Perhaps they just don’t feel qualified. Diversity is not an issue reserved for minorities and underrepresented groups. I am a firm believer that we are all diverse individuals with various aspects to our identities that make us so, and we all have something to contribute to the conversation. Dr. Cullen says it best when she says none of us is just one dimension of ourselves – we are all multidimensional but at times we get stuck on seeing only one element of a person. I agree; our multidimensional identities ARE our diversity and the better we understand this, the better we can communicate in a healthy manner with those different from us and avoid miscommunications that perpetuate stereotypes, discrimination, and societal oppression.
My diversity workshop (which I hesitate to even call mine as it is largely based on borrowed resources) has evolved as my own diversity competency has also evolved over the years. It’s gone from it’s beginnings as an RA training session to a class presentation for first year students in success seminars. I’ve presented this session to student leaders at an annual SUNY Student Assembly conference and at the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities northeast programming conference. Most recently, I presented it to my peers during a staff development day at my institution. I’m paying forward my borrowed materials in this post so that you can feel free to extend the reach of these resources and continue to develop diversity competency in the students and colleagues you interact with. Student leaders especially, need to develop diversity competency so they can better lead inclusive, supportive student organizations now and ultimately fine tune this competency into civically engaged community and business leaders. The Power of Assumptions Activity: Instructions: Tape signs around the room with various aspects of identity: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, work experience, education background, income, geographic location, appearance, personal/recreation habits, and family/relationship status, physical ability, mental/emotional well being, etc. Explain to your audience that you have a series of statements you are going to read. After you read each statement, they will need to silently migrate to the sign they choose as their response to the statement. Here are the prompts (Original source unknown; I adapted this exercise from a photocopy I received at a consortium meeting, and the person who shared it also didn’t know the original source. If anyone does recognize where this activity was first created, I’d love to know!) 1. This is the aspect of your identity you are MOST comfortable discussing. 2. This is the aspect of your identity you are LEAST comfortable discussing. 3. This is the aspect of your identity that you THINK ABOUT the most often. 4. You KNOW THE LEAST about this aspect of your identity. 5. You have experienced the most JOY around this aspect of your identity. 6. You have experienced the most PAIN around this aspect of your identity. 7. This is the aspect of your identity that is the most INVISIBLE. 8. You feel the most JUDGED by this aspect of your identity. 9. This is the aspect of your identity you have to DEFEND the most. Debrief questions after everyone sits back down. 1. What are your initial reactions to this activity? 2. Why do you think this was a silent activity? 3. How did it feel to be in a category all by yourself? 4. How did it feel to be in a category with many others? 5. Did you ever stay in the same category for opposite statements (for e.g. most pain and most joy)? 6. What is one thing you will take away from this activity and apply to your role as a student leader (or as a professional) on campus? Then I segway into a discussion about miscommunication and unintended hurt feelings. I tell the audience “I’m going to assume everyone in this room is well-intended. I’m also going to assume that we’ve all been offended at some point in our lives and that we’ve also been the unintentional offender at one point or another.” I handout a list of Dr. Maura Cullen’s “35 Dumb Things Well Intended People Say.” I ask them to read through the list and then we discuss the ones that jump out at them, focusing on Cullen’s intent vs. impact core principle. As the conversation progresses I usually also explain Cullen’s pile-on-principle and the importance of knowing your own triggers. In order to do this workshop, you will need to read and be familiar with the Cullen’s book, which can be purchased from her website or pretty much any online book retailer. If you have questions about facilitating this workshop, I’m happy to consult. I designed this session to be very participatory and interactive, and usually runs 45 minutes to an hour. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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