Diversity Training: A Dying Concept

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Lina Suliafu at the Polynesian Legacy performance at Thanksgiving Point, 2009. Courtesy of the UVU Multicultural Center

We are a growing powerhouse! According to Utah.com, we are “Utah’s fastest growing facility for higher education and learning.” We are drawing students from different locations within the country and even outside the United States – but are we ready for it?

We have a low degree of diversity, but one only needs to look at the fact book on the university’s website to see that by the year 2008 we were moving forward with small but crucial steps toward cultural diversity.

According to the factbook posted by the campus’s Office of Institutional Research & Information, we’ve grown from 1,362 minority students in 2003 to 3,125 in 2009. Currently the university boasts a proud number, compared to previous years, of close to 1800 Hispanics, 366 Pacific Islanders, 333 Native Americans, 382 Asians and 242 African American students.

So one would think the institution would mold itself to fit the diverse assortment of arriving students and learn how interaction is affected by such diversity by training staff and faculty in those respects.

However, Human Resources say that there is no formal diversity training at UVU and student government representatives are lukewarm. So if we don’t have anything that helps faculty and staff to interact and learn from this quiet influx of diversity, what exactly do we have?

As we grow and strengthen ourselves within the diverse spectrum of what education is drawing in, we need to become prepared to deal with a variety of issues that each culture, ethnicity and gender and sexual orientation may bring. Both faculty and staff members need to learn how to work, mediate and operate with a diverse group or population.

This is still a very conservative, male, Caucasian facility within a very conservative, male, Caucasian state who do not deal with the same issues multi-cultural individuals do in the education system. Nor do they resolve them the way these individuals would.

One faculty member who asked to remain anonymous argued the point this way, “Any university with less than a 15 percent multicultural population that is increasing rapidly needs to address cultural, ethnic, and other diversity issues that have not been recognized in the past.”

Research shows diversity training within an institution can lead to beneficial and enlightening experiences. Dr. Whitla of Harvard University has directed his research of student achievement and multicultural climates through the National Campus Diversity Project. Whitla found that students and universities benefit greatly from being interculturally competent.

His studies with law students in Michigan and Harvard have shown that after participating in the study, students regard diversity as a crucial element to their experience that has changed their perception of education and the legal system. Students would also associate and interact with students of diverse backgrounds more than they ever had before. Whitla hopes that his research will lead to programs that become more efficient as they strive to reduce dropouts from underrepresented minority students.

Diversity trainers are not impossible to get a hold of, either. People like Lee Mun Wah of Stir Fry Seminars of California and Chris Cullinan of the University of Oregon can produce great results with their trainings and can provide us those life-changing experiences of cross-cultural proficiency at an affordable price.

Why aren’t our faculty and staff given the preparation that they need for the emergent variety in our student population? Funding is understandably a problem but the outcomes will outweigh the cost tremendously.

Diversity introduces innovation and creativity to a number of organizations. If students can harness and utilize such powers, then we are only more prepared to enter a unique and colorful world filled with different thought processes, languages, skin tones, and abilities. “The journey that is needed begins with first acknowledging that we don’t know,” says one faculty member, “and being open to what it is that we need to learn.” Quite simply, we all need to learn more about diversity.