Highlights of Diversity Forum 2013: Day 1

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UCLA Professor Sylvia Hurtado opens UW Diversity Forum with talk on diversity in the campus climate

University of California-Los Angeles professor Sylvia Hurtado highlighted the importance of addressing diversity on campus to promote student success at the University of Wisconsin-Madison 2013 Diversity Forum Monday.

Hurtado outlined her model for creating diverse learning environments and emphasized the need of recognizing different factors that influence the campus climate.

The first of these dimensions relates to the group’s history of inclusion or exclusion within the campus community. Hurtado added the campus community must ask “who’s at the table?” to ensure all groups are being fairly represented.

“Diversity is a resource, it’s not a problem,” she said. “Inequity is the problem.”

In order to combat inequity, Hurtado proposed universities cater to students’ specific needs by learning about them on a personal level.

According to Hurtado, campus community members must place student identities at the center of diversity initiatives. She said it is important that universities revise their practices to accommodate students’ various identities, and employ more advisors and caseworkers whenever possible.

She said the university’s goal should be to improve retention rates and ensure students graduate ready to be citizens of a future world that will be more equitable, democratic and economically sustainable.

“We want them to get their degrees and be qualified for all the things they’re aspiring to become,” she said. “We want them to be visionaries.”

In order to produce these future visionaries, Hurtado said universities must be proactive, not reactive, when addressing diversity. Schools can highlight the different identities present on campus by ensuring they have diverse faculties and curriculums.

“Students can’t learn about diversity abstractly,” Hurtado said. “We still need to continue to acknowledge the needs of distinct populations.”

Hurtado believes UW-Madison has the opportunity to be a national model in the conversation about diversity on college campuses and looks forward to seeing what future measures Wisconsin implements.

—Adelina Yankova


Columbia professor reveals ‘invisible’ biases in everyday interactions

In his day-to-day life, the realities of Columbia University Professor Donald Wing Sue’s theories became harshly apparent.

In a Diversity Forum keynote speech Monday, Sue discussed his research on microaggressions, which he defines as “the everyday slights and indignities, insults and allegations and put downs that … any marginalized group experiences in their day to day interactions.” These microaggressions, he said, manifest in the form of well-intentioned comments.

Case in point: After one lecture Sue gave, a white woman in the audience approached him and asked about his background.

“She asked me, ‘Dr. Sue, where were you born?’” he said.  “And I said ‘Oh, I was born in Portland, Oregon.’ And she said ‘No, no, no: where were you born?’”

The woman continued to repeat the same question, and after Sue insisted for the third time he was from the United States, the woman left “flustered and red.”

Sue said this exchange carried a hidden message: “you are a perpetual foreigner in your own country,” Sue said. “You are not a true American.”

According to Sue, microaggressions often manifest on college campuses. For example, he said he’s been told stories of black students praised for being articulate and bright as if it were an anomaly and of professors calling on female students far less than their male peers. At Columbia University, he said white students sometimes ask their minority peers “how they got in.”

These microaggressions are damaging, more so even than overt racism, sexism and heterosexism, according to Sue.

“The reason these biases have been so hard to deal with is because they have been invisible and outside the level of conscious awareness,” he said.

These biases have enormous implications, Sue said. For instance, he said these unconscious views that marginalized groups as holding “second class status” to statistics such as white European-American males making up 33 percent of the U.S. population but holding 80 percent of tenured positions in higher educations. In addition, these white males also make up 80 percent of the House of Representatives and 92 percent of the Forbes 400 Executive Level CEOs, Sue said.

Sue said it was critical to bring knowledge of microaggressions to the forefront in order to address the issues. In his own experience at Columbia University, Sue said while students and faculty of color could easily identify microaggressions, white students and faculty could not. 

“When you are unaware of what the dynamics are and you do not have a critical race consciousness, you can not facilitate a dialogue,” Sue said.

—Tamar Myers


Committee presents goals for new diversity plans at UW Diversity Forum

The Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee presented a general framework of the goals it has for development of a new diversity plan during a listening session at the University of Wisconsin-Madison 2013 Diversity Forum Monday.

The previous diversity plan, which expired in 2008, focused on recruitment and retention issues as related to race, ethnicity and gender.

The new plan would include social, economic and political factors in the consideration of diversity, according to the committee co-chairs.

One of the goals of the new plan is to turn diversity into a resource, rather than a talking point, according to co-chair Ruth Litovsky.

Litovsky asked the group to consider thinking about, “What can I do?”

The presentation highlighted that diversity continues to be an area of extensive discussion on campus, with over 30 units and 50 committees currently engaged in carrying out UW-Madison diversity policy.

The committee mentioned that the inclusion of the Wisconsin Idea in the new diversity plan as an area of focus.

Co-chair Ryan Adserias said he saw the plan as, “…not only being a resource for the state but having the people of the state be a resource for us.”

The presentation stressed accountability in the plan, with the co-chairs focusing on the need for all members of the campus community to be involved in the plan’s development.

After the presentation, a group consisting of campus employees, academic staff and students discussed the need to create safe places where conversations on diversity can be held. Forum attendees also brought up the need for the continual engagement of students and young professionals that are brought to campus.

Guests also shared experiences of individual engagement with campus members, and stressed that these relationships are vital in order to achieve the goals set out by the committee.

The committee will begin campus outreach events in November with the goal of having a plan rolled out by the end of the current academic year.

—Emmett Mottl


Panel examines underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors

A session within the Diversity Forum Monday discussed the need for programs and collaboration throughout Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields for underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students to increase their chances of success.

Gloria Hawkins, Assistant Dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, moderated the session, titled Increasing Underrepresented Student Participation in STEM. Three members of the UW-Madison faculty created the discussion forum and examined issues faced by college students when entering a STEM field.

“The top 10 bachelor degree majors with the highest median earnings are all in STEM fields,” Hawkins said.

 According to Hawkins, there is a decline in average STEM skills in K-12 education that directly impacts student scores and understanding in the college level.

“Children will get less time for science in elementary schools than two years ago,” Hawkins said.

Jennifer Ball-Sharpe of the Institute for Biology Education discussed the importance of connecting students through programs such as First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs)and Mathology Boot Camp. Ball-Sharpe said that students are most impacted by their first semester on campus, but biology is not offered until chemistry requirements are fulfilled.

Ball-Sharpe stressed the benefits to Exploring Biology courses and the Biology interest groups.

“FIG programs is one of the best experiences that students can have on campus,” said Ball-Sharpe.

Ball-Sharpe mentioned the addition of BioHouse, a new residential learning community beginning in 2014 to help incoming students understand prospective majors within biology. Steenbock Library is uniting with the Institute for Biology Education to create a Bio-Commons on the first floor. Bio-Commons will be a learning space for bioscience students across campus.

Douglass Henderson, a professor of the College of Engineering, noted that there are bridge programs created to help students with transitioning from high school to college, but there are still issues for graduate students transitioning from undergraduate studies to graduate school. The forum discussed the possibilities for new programs to help graduate students feel more comfortable on UW’s campus.

Panelists also discussed how educators are seeing the importance of Facebook, Twitter and podcasts in academics to help students feel connected to the professors.

“We need to see how we can collaborate,” Hawkins said.

—Maija Inveiss


Vice Chancellor concludes Diversity Forum

Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazzell concluded the first day of the Diversity Forum at Union South on Monday with a summary of the day’s speakers and breakout groups and commentary on the need to improve diversity in the Madison community.

Bazzell said it is significant that the forum is longer than it was last year.

“The fact that they extended the forum to two full days I think speaks volumes of the importance of an interest in issues about diversity and culture,” said Bazzell.

Bazzell said he thinks progress was already made after one day, and specifically mentioned the importance of the focus on diversity in the campus environment.

“If we want to be successful as a university, as a community and as a nation, we have to make effective use of everyone’s talents and abilities, without exception,” Bazzell said.

Bazzell said that in order the University of Wisconsin–Madison to keep its current status of a top university, strides must be made to include everyone in the community.

Participation in the Diversity Forum rose 60 percent this year, said Interim Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer Patrick Sims. Though this was a substantial increase, Sims said there needs to be even more involvement in the future.

Bazzell said it is important to continue working on a campus-wide plan to foster diversity.

“If we are truly to be serious about diversity and creating a diverse environment,” said Bazzell, “Then we must have a diversity plan.”

 —Emily Gerber

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