'Celebrating our differences' UMD employees creating community through diversity training

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While walking through various hallways on campus, gold posters can be seen lining the walls with phrases that reinforce two of UMD’s core values: diversity and inclusion. Phrases such as “Respect everyone every day” and “Our differences drive our greatness” are just a few examples.

While posters with positive messages are nice, a question must be asked: How do UMD employees, as well as the greater campus community, work to reflect these values?

Through recently developed programs facilitated by Director of Education for Inclusive Excellence Paula Pedersen, faculty, staff and administrators have the opportunity to gain cultural self-awareness and grow in their leadership skills.

“These programs are really focused on becoming aware of your own personal lens and developing the ability to see multiple perspectives,” Pedersen said.

One of the programs, known as Intercultural Leadership Development (ILD), launched in the spring of 2012. Since then, 13 cohorts, each containing 18 staff, faculty and administrators at UMD, have voluntarily gone through the program. It has become quite popular -- developing a lengthy waiting list in the past five years. Participants of the ILD training meet at the Kitchi Gammi Club near downtown Duluth for the 4.5-day program.

 Staff at UMD taking part in ILD (Intercultural Leadership Development) training. Photo courtesy of Paula Peterson 

Staff at UMD taking part in ILD (Intercultural Leadership Development) training. Photo courtesy of Paula Peterson 

“Paula doesn’t have trouble with recruitment because the former participants always spread the word,” Assistant Professor of Education Insoon Han said. “It really helped me to become a better teacher.”

Han, originally from South Korea, said that these programs helped her to understand the environment of American classrooms. She has also noticed an improvement in the attitudes of her students.

“[The programs] have shown my weaknesses, my room to improve and has helped me to reach students more authentically,” Han said. “Students have become more comfortable, engaged and willing to share their own stories.”

While the primary goal of a teacher is to educate, their role in the classroom varies greatly across cultures. Associate Professor of Education Nedra Hazareesingh said that this training can help international professors adjust to this role

 Staff at UMD taking part in ICPCP (Intercultural Pedagogy Community of Practice) training. Photo courtsey of Paula Peterson 

Staff at UMD taking part in ICPCP (Intercultural Pedagogy Community of Practice) training. Photo courtsey of Paula Peterson 

“Back at home, we don’t really worry about interpersonal relationships with students because teachers are the people in power and students just sit there, listen to us, and are okay with that,” Hazareesingh said. “They are highly respected and never challenged. But here, students are much more independent and vocal, and will tell you if they don’t like something. That’s very unusual for us coming here.”

Hazareesingh has taught at the university for over 30 years, and said that the ILD training is “very intense” but has been more meaningful than any diversity training she has experienced.

“I accept and understand my white colleagues much more now,” Hazareesingh said. “I can understand where they are coming from and that it’s your experiences that make you who you are.”

Groups have formed from the ILD and other programs, such as Intercultural Pedagogy Community of Practice (ICPCP) and Courage to Teach. These groups share a common goal: supporting one another.

“It is never about agreeing with someone else’s opinions or changing peoples’ minds,” Hazareesingh said, “but it’s always about talking, creating an open dialogue and celebrating our differences.”

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Project InclusionKevin Ott