Diversity training moves to expand

Although Emerson has made recent strides for inclusivity, diversity in the classroom is still a work in progress. Though the semester is halfway through, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has yet to train some faculty members in general classroom cultural competency.

Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Sylvia Spears estimated that more than two-thirds of all faculty members have participated in some sort of diversity training, and about 100 of over 450 faculty members have engaged in the Inclusive Excellence Faculty Fellows Program, an annual in-depth diversity workshop. All department chairs, each of the college’s deans, and members of academic affairs have participated in a version of the Fellows Program specifically designed for leadership roles, Spears added.

The office conducts two types of training. Short introductory programs are led by Spears and Robert Amelio, director of diversity and inclusive excellence. These occur nearly weekly, last a few hours, and can be tailored to address specific departments, Spears said.

The other training is the Inclusive Excellence Faculty Fellows Program, Spears said. This is offered once a year, typically after graduation in May, and lasts for three days. It is an intensive deep-dive into topics ranging from microaggressions to implicit bias and curriculum adjustments, Spears said.

“I think a lot of faculty members are hungry for professional development—to learn how to be a better teacher,” Amelio said. “This helps them do that.”

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These two programs are not mandatory, Spears said. She said it is each department’s responsibility to either encourage or require its professors to attend the sessions.

According to each department chair, either the majority of or all full-time faculty members have completed diversity training in every department except journalism, where chair Paul Niwa said that some have undergone training. A session of the shorter program for the journalism faculty is scheduled for Dec. 6, Amelio said.  

In spring 2015, hundreds of Emerson students took action to protest a lack of diversity and insensitive treatment in classes. Last spring, the Faculty Assembly passed a motion—prompted by student justice group Protesting Oppression With Education Reform (POWER)—that required mandatory diversity training, an audit of existing curricula, and a bias reporting plan for issues within the classroom.  

Even though training sessions were happening before these demonstrations, Spears said, the student action had a substantial effect on participation and interest from staff members.

As for the future, both types of training will continue to run, including new professors and educating current faculty, Spears said. In addition, she is planning to make more faculty courses that specifically address certain departments and the issues of diversity they face.

Spears said this training is not just about accepting others, but also about creating an overall positive environment in the classroom.

“We’re asking [the professors] to not only be experts in their field,” Spears said. “But also to develop a deeper knowledge and understanding about the nature of learning, to create an environment that facilitates learning.”