Diversity workshops aim to foster discussion
By KATE NAGENGAST
To encourage dialogue on the issue of diversity at Notre Dame, the psychology department and Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS) created a Practicum in Diversity Education.
The focus of this year's program — based on a pilot program from last fall — will be expanding the definition of diversity beyond racial descriptions to encompass issues of gender, sexuality, handicaps and class.
"Although the topic of diversity is always going to touch some nerves, the goal of creating dialogue was met [last year] so we are continuing the program and refining it this year," said Kevin Huie, assistant director of MSPS and one of nine Practicum facilitators.
The program is structured as a one-credit psychology course led by the facilitators. Weekly meetings begin today to prepare for presentations the 40 student "diversity educators" will give to freshmen in every residence hall this October.
"We think of it as more of a program that you happen to get credit for," said Hunt Hanover, a senior and one of the diversity educators invited to participate in the program this year. "Everyone involved would be there regardless of [course] credit."
"My experience with diversity here at Notre Dame has been very interesting," said Charlyn Henderson, a senior and a diversity educator. "I thought I knew everything about diversity just as a racial issue ... but anyone who is different than the majority is diverse and coming here really opened my eyes to that."
Iris Outlaw, director of MSPS and a Practicum facilitator, described the need for the promotion of such discussions at Notre Dame.
"The majority of students had said, that if not for some of the classes that they took, they could have gone through the University not knowing or discussing diversity," she said.
The student diversity educators participated in a weekend retreat at the start of the school year and met for dinner last week to discuss the task they will undertake. The subsequent weekly meetings prepare them to give presentations and lead small group discussions in groups of three to five educators with assistance from one facilitator when they enter the dorms next month.
Morgan Russell, a sophomore who participated in the program last year and a diversity educator this year said, "We want to do more small group work so the kids taking part in it don't feel intimidated by a big group of people."
Last year's pilot program allowed diversity educators to test six different programs. Based on student responses to those efforts, this year's presentations were revised. One important change in the programming is the involvement of each hall staff in the discussions.
"They are supposed to have the hall rectors in the meetings with us this year so that should keep down some of the ignorant comments that were made last year," said Daly Barnes, a sophomore diversity educator. "I just hope to bring my appreciation for diversity and help to eliminate some of the ignorance that is out there."
"I'm looking forward to more focus and unity in the group in terms of programming this year," said Henderson, who also participated in last year's pilot program.
The focus of the program will remain dialogue and education. "There's going to be some serious globalization now and I want to make sure, and the rest of the staff wants to make sure that our students are prepared for that," Outlaw said.
That preparation, however, is a large task, according to Huie.
"Everyone feels like this program will solve all diversity problems on campus, but you just can't do that in a hour and a half," he said, "But it can create dialogue and that's our goal."
"[The diversity educators are] a diverse group of wonderful people – who bring many different perspectives," Hanover said. "The atmosphere in the room when we're doing this stuff is excitement."
All News Stories for Tuesday, September 5, 2000