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Committee plans diversity workshops for faculty

Published: January 18, 2008
Section: Front Page, News

The Committee for the Support of Teaching, along with the Faculty Senate, will co-sponsor a series of workshops on diversity for faculty beginning in February.

Committee member Associate Dean of Curriculum and Academic Programs Elaine Wong explained that CST, along with being responsible for the Course Evaluation Guide, has sponsored workshops for faculty since its inception in the mid-1980s. The committee includes Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe, members of the faculty and staff, and four student representatives.

“The workshops this spring are a continuation of workshops done this fall started by workshops done last year,” explained Wong.

Last March Professors David Cunningham (SOC), ChaeRan Freeze (NEJS), Faith Smith (AAAS, ENG), and Govind Sreenivasan (HIST) led a panel discussion and workshop entitled “Race and Ethnicity in the Classroom.”

In light of feedback received following this workshop, “the committee wanted to do…smaller group workshops for faculty and graduate students that would be field specific,” said Wong. These workshops focused on diversity issues that might arise in science courses or humanities courses.

According to Wong, the workshops slated for early February will follow the same format but will focus on a particular diversity issue. She added, “this is a topic that faculty and graduate students have show interest in…[they would] like to develop the ability to be sensitive to issues that have to do with differences both in and out of the classroom.”

Student Committee member Andrew Giordano ’08 explained, “we’re developing a large number of case studies to deal with a whole spectrum of diversity issues.”

Giordano is working on a subcommittee to develop case studies to be used in the workshops. Workshops done using case study scenarios were done about 5 years ago for department chairs Wong stated.

These issues will include “sexual identity, gender identity, religious diversity, race, ethnicity, [and] culture…we’re really trying to branch out across all aspects of diversity” Giordano said.

According to Giordano, many of the scenarios he’s devised come from stories he’s heard from other people. “We’re trying to breach the hypothetical and take what we have witnessed here,” he remarked.

The emphasis is on “communal learning,” said Giordano. “Because of the group environment, there’s going to be an opportunity for discourse…it’s the interplay of ideas that we’re going for here.”

He added that the committee is using evaluations from last semester “as a basis to change what we’ve already implemented and strengthen it.”

Evaluations from last semester’s workshops “were overwhelmingly positive,” Giordano said. Last semester’s workshops featured up to 7 participants in a workshop. While numbers are as yet unknown, Giordano expects an increase in participation this semester.

While the workshops come in the wake of the controversy surrounding allegedly racist remarks made by Prof. Donald Hindley (POL) last semester, “we’re not targeting a specific professor, we’re targeting the university as a whole,” Giordano commented. The planning of workshops began, “well before Hindley and [is] completely unrelated to Hindley.”

Faculty Senate Chair Prof. Marc Brettler (NEJS) could not be reached to discuss the extent and nature of the Faculty Senate’s participation in the planning of the workshops. According to the Nov. 29 Faculty Senate minutes, “the Senate agreed that the Faculty Senate needs to protect academic freedom in the classroom and to publicize that there is a distinction between what is legal teaching and what is humane teaching.”

Karen Lowe ’10 was supportive of the workshops. She commented, “I think this is a good idea to be more inclusive in its diversity approach and focus on more aspects of diversity. I think people have very specific ideas of what diversity entails and don’t focus on things like sexual identity.”

Giordano felt positive about the upcoming workshops. They show that “some active force is moving along to change the way some students have seen the school in the past.”