The educational workplace must continue to change as college campuses become increasingly diverse. The responsibility of today’s faculty, staff and students is to create a climate of inclusion and respect, where everyone feels valued and comfortable to be themselves.
Experts from around campus and across the country came together at Texas A&M University to discuss the importance of organizational climate and the influence and impact of climate, diversity and equity in educational workplace settings. The conference was based upon the College of Education and Human Development’s (CEHD) 2011 climate survey findings.
“Don’t judge, but seek understanding,” said Christine Stanley, vice president and associate provost for diversity at Texas A&M, in the conference’s opening address. “‘Inclusion’ means everyone has an opportunity to participate, and everyone is valued for their talent and skills.”
“The 2014 CEHD Conference: A Dialogue on Climate, Inclusion and Respect” covered issues including power, privilege and social class, interpersonal communication, race, ethnicity and nationality, and religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.
In her presentation “Power, Privilege and Social Class,” Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Karan L. Watson spoke of how one’s privilege may determine how he or she is treated by others. She shared her personal experiences, telling the audience she’s been on the receiving end of both undeserved privilege and unfair judgment.
“As a white person in America, I am privileged,” she asserted. “That means that I can go anywhere and feel like I belong.” For minority individuals, she noted that feeling of belonging might not be so automatic. “It’s an undeserved privilege by my skin color; it doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to benefit from my hard work, it means I have undeserved power,” she stated.
On the other hand, she explained, as a woman in engineering, a male-dominated field, she felt the sting of not belonging (alienation). “I was always the only female student and had no female professors,” she recalled. She said some of her teachers were welcoming, while others treated her unfairly due to her gender. “Did they make me feel not normal? Yes. It affected me, but it didn’t defeat me.” Watson is the first woman provost at Texas A&M.
The importance of interpersonal communication in today’s diverse educational workplace was discussed by Laurie Priest, director of athletics at Mount Holyoke College, and Roger Worthington, professor of counseling psychology at the University of Missouri.
Worthington spoke of the necessity of “difficult dialogue.” “Dialogue is about talking and listening,” he explained. “Difficult dialogues are purposeful, often planned interactions between people with differences…The purpose is not to change others’ beliefs, values or perspectives. Instead, the intention is to create mutual respect, open mindedness and cooperation.”
Priest seconded the notion that open and courageous dialogue in the educational workplace is key for an inclusive and respectful climate. When in a difficult dialogue, “Give others what you hope to receive…check your prejudices at the door…plan to listen more than you talk…replace ‘but’ with ‘and’… talk with people not at them,” she said.
Sylvia Hurtado, a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, engaged the audience on how culture influences climate, particularly given the changing demographics in higher education. She encouraged audience members to acknowledge that needs differ between peoples of differing races, ethnicities and national origins. She said that many individuals living outside their own culture, students in particular, may feel pressure to conform and assimilate, while at the same time are developing their own unique identities and sense of purpose. “We should view diversity in the classroom as an asset in learning,” she noted.
In discussing key issues in cultural awareness, she pointed out the use of stereotypes and how they can be harmful when, for example, a sporting event is promoted as a “Mexican fiesta” with participants dressed in clothing related to Mexican culture. She said that when cultural artifacts are worn as costumes, it is offensive to many people, as cultural identity is not a costume people can put on and take off. She added that in designing such an event, there is a lack of awareness and therefore a perceived lack of responsibility for offenses. “Encouraging students to stereotype is a collective micro-aggression,” she said.
Another theme of the conference was addressing other areas of diversity including religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. Claire Katz, a professor of philosophy and women’s and gender studies at Texas A&M, spoke about, among other things, how Jewish philosophy has impacted Christian thought. She spoke of personal experiences engaging with Gentiles not familiar with Jewish perspectives and customs, and noted the importance of taking the differing perspectives of others into account.
And in her presentation, Sidney Gardner, program coordinator for Texas A&M’s GLBT Resource Center, said LGBT students, faculty and staff can be challenged by those who disagree with their identity and may even suffer harassment. She offered different ways that members of the campus community can show support for LGBT individuals, including: letting individuals self-identify and using inclusive language; putting visual markers in workspaces so they can be recognized as “safe spaces”; learning about campus resources available to LGBT individuals; attending student group meetings; and keeping current with hate crime laws and procedures.
In addition to CEHD Committee on Diversity Initiatives, the conference was sponsored by the Department of Health & Kinesiology Huffines Institute, Dwight Look College of Engineering, the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research, the Division of Student Affairs’ Department of Multicultural Services, and the College of Architecture.
The conference also featured a poster presentation, several of which can be viewed here.
For more information about inclusion at Texas A&M, click here.
And to read the results of the 2013 Staff Climate Survey from Texas A&M Human Resources, visit here.
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