Meilani Conley is an Instructor in Computer and Information Sciences at Southwest Baptist University
The societal shift in the U.S. has led to efforts to address hard topics, such as race, within schools, businesses and communities. Leading discussions or efforts about racial diversity can be difficult to navigate. Still, studies show that the risk is worth the reward. A national study of 25,000 undergraduates at four-year colleges and universities showed that creating institutional policies that foster diversity in a campus community had positive effects on students’ cognitive development, leadership abilities and satisfaction with their college experience.
Recent events have motivated universities to engage and lead difficult conversations about racial diversity. For some, this means hiring dedicated staff to help facilitate discussions and develop campus initiatives. But regardless of resources, here are three practical approaches to encourage positive dialog about racial diversity within your university communities:
Research shows that a student’s ability to adjust to studying and living with others from different backgrounds linguistically and culturally can be challenging but could positively impact student success. In order to help students, as well as faculty, staff and the university community as a whole embrace diversity, they must first recognize the importance of diversity. Diversity training helps university communities understand the equitable benefits of diversity, increase cultural awareness and sensitivity and relate to people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. The integration of diversity training into the enrollment and hiring process sets a precedent for the school’s expectations of the equal treatment of others. A consistent and united university stance on diversity matters sets the standard and shows support for their campus community.
Integrating diversity through campus activities can provide interactive opportunities that bring the university community together. Several activities exist that are low-cost and can scale from small to larger university communities, such as a diversity-themed book clubs, movie nights or speakers. Incorporating moderated discussions following these events can challenge university communities to mentally digest and discuss concepts about diversity. Other possible activities include:
- Cultural Festivals – A way to showcase diversity through sharing cultural experiences, foods and ideas.
- Bingo Nights – Themed game nights that focus on important historical figures from different cultures and backgrounds.
- Coffee Talks – Inviting guest speakers to discuss topics around diversity and share their personal experiences.
Creating a welcoming and encouraging environment for an open dialog about diversity within a campus community is critical. One of the ways to accomplish this is through open discussion panels and forums. Setting up a diversity discussion panel can seem like a daunting task, but the following are steps to help manage the process.
- Form a planning committee – Get involvement from multiple levels—from students to administrators—for setting up an open forum.
- Ask the university community – Involve the university community by setting up ways for them to submit questions and topics that concern them.
- Physical Submissions – Discussions around challenging topics can be difficult so creating a way for anonymous submissions is important. Try placing question boxes in public areas to allow for submissions.
- Digital Submissions – Setting up digital submissions via a dedicated email for the planning committee provides an easy way to collect and record submissions.
- Determine the focus – The planning committee should collect the physical and digital submissions and organize them by topic frequency and category to help determine the discussion focus and sub-topics.
- Finalize details – Choose a location for the discussion, duration of the event and other optional details. These details might include providing refreshments, designing event advertisements and writing a press release through the marketing department.
- Select panelists and moderator – Select panelists based on the focus—those who have experience within the university community and outside of it.
- Panelists – Start with students, faculty, staff and administrators. You can also consider connections with alumni, businesses, speakers and the surrounding community.
- Moderators – You can select a moderator using the same process as the panelists; however, choosing someone from the planning committee or university community who understands the focus and goal is preferred.
- Host the Discussion – Final preparations to have a successful discussion event.
- Panelists and moderator – Confirm their attendance before the event and send questions and topics at least one week in advance of the event.
- Introduction – A member or members of the planning committee should introduce the purpose of the discussion, the panelists and the moderator.
- Moderator – Use the list of topics and questions to guide the discussion.
- Open Q & A (optional) – Opening the floor for attendees to ask questions not covered in the list. If used, careful considerations are necessary to ensure the discussions align with the intent and focus of the event.
Discussions about race do not have to rouse tensions. Academic institutions can successfully embrace and foster diversity discussions within their campus communities—limited resources or not.
Want to learn more about promoting diversity and inclusion at your institution?