Western’s Campus Inclusion and Equity Forum will hold diversity workshops for staff members this quarter, marking the first implementation of policies created in the wake of President Bruce Shepard’s call for an increase in campus diversity at his 2014 convocation.
The workshops, which launched on Oct. 15 and will run through March 4, offers a new series of courses and training sessions on a range of diversity-related topics be available for Western employees to attend on university time and at university expense, according to the forum’s website.
Nick Sanchez, employment inclusion manager for human resources at Western, selected professors who have specific expertise in teaching diversity issues to lead the workshops.
“Part of what I’m trying to do with the program is pull on the strengths of people who are already really good at this,” Sanchez said
“I don’t think this is something that ends at all,” Sanchez said. “Just like this past quarter showed us, there are current issues, whether they be in the media or right here on our campus, that we need to respond to.”
Political science professor Vernon Johnson was chosen to instruct a workshop because of his knowledge in the area of diversity. Last quarter, Johnson led a workshop titled “What’s up with White America?”, which looked at racial socioeconomic disparity and continuing racial segregation, as well as issues around becoming a white ally.
“There’s this kind of fundamental distrust of the institution and, by association, all of the institutions of society,” he said. “I don’t really think anyone is really doing the equity and inclusion thing in a very substantial way and so we have to generate and create tools for how to do it.”
Johnson was on the advisory committee to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1988 and helped found the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force. Johnson has presented publicly numerous times on race and law enforcement since the protests in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, and in 2015 received the Philip E. Sharpe Community Engagement Award for that work.
While different universities around the country have attempted to champion diversity, Johnson doesn’t believe any university, including Western, really knows how to go about handing it in the proper ways, he said.
“When we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, I think that President Shepard believes that that’s the way the university must go to really serve the public in the 21st century,” he said.
While it’s hard to predict the outcome of the training sessions on campus culture, Sanchez feels positive that those involved have taken away a lot of good from it.
The overall response to the workshops so far has been positive, Sanchez said. In addition, 11 courses are currently scheduled for this quarter with an additional six still to be added.
“I was expecting something purely academic and less personal,” said John Lund, assistant professor of electrical engineering, referring to the workshop, “The Larger the Table, The More Room for the Feast: Serving Up Empathetic Education in a Diverse Society.”
Lund said his curiosity is what drove him to attend the workshop, since the concept is unique. The knowledge he gained from it, was beneficial, he said.
“It was a surprisingly good self-reflection as much as it was just a ‘being lectured to’ sort of thing,” Lund said.
The workshops, which will be held between Jan. 13 and March 4, include topics on discrimination, transgender, genderqueer and non-binary students and social constructions.