The Office of Diversity and Inclusion has recruited the first group of 20 staff members from across campus to become anti-bias trainers throughout Pitt.
Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) Pamela Connelly enlisted the group to participate in A Campus of Difference in December. It’s an intensive, weeklong training devised by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has now equipped the group to aid in ODI’s work.
“In today’s atmosphere,” said Connelly, “there is a good deal of demand for this training.” And diversity is not just the job of one office, she added. “It’s a diffuse responsibility.”
Emily Muskin, an ADL education director, pointed to a spike in bias and hate incidents on college campuses following the 2016 presidential election. By the ADL’s tally, colleges in Pennsylvania have been the third-most frequent target of white supremacist propaganda since then.
Pitt joins the 900 college campuses and universities across the U.S. that have participated in the Campus of Difference training program.
“One large differentiator of the Campus of Difference program,” Muskin said, “is that it is specifically tailored to each campus and participant.” The aim is to “create a space and give time to really dig into how different departments could come together on the campus when bias issues and incidents occur.” The program’s goal is also to “more proactively think about how to implement sustainable change in building a campus culture that is inclusive of the entire campus community.”
Hands-On Training That Challenges Ideas
For Summer Rothrock, director of Pitt’s Office of Cross Cultural and Leadership Development, the opening exercise of A Campus of Difference set the tone. It was a simple request (“Tell us about your name”) that nonetheless allowed participants to consider their own stories and reveal how they self-identify. The backgrounds and current experiences that shaped her colleagues’ identities surprised Rothrock. There are influential parts of our lives that we mention only infrequently to others, she realized —and yet we bring those factors to the office every day.
For Paula K. Davis, assistant vice chancellor for health sciences diversity, these Campus of Difference exercises also got the group to consider where individuals have privilege and power, and the manner in which that affects their treatment of others.
“We make decisions based on those surface details,” such as how old or how healthy people appear, Davis said. But other factors such as ethnic background, sexual orientation or family roles, while not always apparent, may be equally influential.
To start another training exercise, called “Cross the Line,” an instructor read a statement that took one side of an issue. Then participants were asked to cross a literal line on the ground to stand with or against that statement. No grey areas or indecision were allowed, nor were participants permitted to explain their positions — at first. Later, they were invited to ask each other: “I noticed you were standing on the other side. Tell me why?”
“When I was forced to take a public stance, it was very interesting,” Rothrock said. It made her realize, when confronted with a colleague’s views on an unfamiliar or highly nuanced issue: “That may not be in my life, but I need to think about it more often.”
Another participant, Jackson Martin, a career consultant who helps student-athletes find success after college, said that the program was his first “deep dive” into such anti-bias training. But, he added, “it’s a relevant topic for what we do. I quickly realized there were items that needed to be addressed on college campuses across the nation, in different communities, in different age groups. Now I’m going to be able to pass this knowledge on to students.”
Particularly valuable, he said, were discussions of moments when participants experienced prejudice, when they saw prejudice and spoke up, when they recognized and supported different learning styles and an assessment of Pitt’s current climate.
Ready to Train the Rest of Campus
The 20 Campus of Difference participants are now meeting in small groups to prepare to bring different parts of their training to the rest of the campus — either when departments or student groups and classes proactively request training, or in response to a bias incident that draws campus attention.
“Let’s get conversations going before an incident happens, before we have to have it,” said Linda Williams-Moore, associate dean and director of student life, who was also part of the initial Campus of Difference class. “When a protest happens, when the hard conversations happen, we need to be able to go into a department and help to navigate that conversation,” she said. “It’s hard and it doesn’t always feel good when you start talking about privileges, superiority and inferiority. You need individuals who are committed to helping the conversations in a positive way.”
Added Martin: “It’s our responsibility now as trainers to make sure we are discussing and implementing this curriculum. Our goal, eventually, is to have this common language and culture of acceptance” at Pitt.