Diversity events hosted on campus

On March 29th and 30th, the University of Vermont held its fifth annual “Blackboard Jungle,” a professional development symposium designed to increase cultural understanding and support educators in their approach to multiculturalism and diversity.

The event consisted of various workshops where people learned strategies to deal with diversity challenges in the classroom and outside.  Between workshops there were three keynote speakers, Donna Brazile, Dr. David Gibson, and Dr. Patricia Hill Collins.

“We need to help people navigate the difficult conversations that sometimes come up, along with the range of emotions they can bring out,” said Wanda Heading-Grant, chief diversity officer and lead organizer of the event. “We don’t have to be experts on everything to have the conversations. What we have to do is be smart about being inclusive, inviting voices but at the same time protecting people.”

UVM students have encountered situations in their classrooms that have made them feel uncomfortable. Avery MacKenzie, UVM senior, has had a few incidents where a fellow student has made a derogatory comment during a class and the Professor has not addressed it. “It’s not something that you can just ignore. Avoiding it when the whole class obviously feels uncomfortable is not a good approach. There should be some sort of protocol for situations like that”.

Sheerwood Smith, Director of the Center for Cultural Pluralism, was a facilitator during the Blackboard Jungle. His belief is that in order to create an inclusive, diversified campus, both parties need to be open to understanding each other. “Increasing the number of diversity students is not everything”, says Smith. Communication and open dialogue are important components to achieving the level of inclusiveness the University strives for.

In May 2006, the University of Vermont Board of Trustees “Required that all UVM undergraduate students must satisfy the following two requirements prior to graduation, one 3-credit course approved in Diversity Category 1 (Race & Racism in the U.S.), to be taken as early as possible after matriculation to UVM (preferably no later than the sophomore year), and a second 3-credit course approved in either Diversity Category 1 (Race & Racism in the U.S.) or Diversity Category 2 (Human and Societal Diversity),” according to the University of Vermont website.

The Diversity credits are another tool used by the university to help students understand ethnic differences and allow them the opportunity to experience different points of view.

The University has stated that they do not expect a diverse campus to just happen. The Diversity website claims “At UVM, our culture of diversity and acceptance comes only from the active pursuit of it.”

Cayla Collins, a UVM senior believes that students need guidance in some areas involving minority students. “There are times where people aren’t sure what terms are ‘politically correct’ to say or what might offend certain people. It would be nice if our professors could lead by example in a sense”

Collins believes that events such as the Blackboard Jungle will help remove the reservations some Professors and students have about what the “right” thing to say or do is in certain situations.

Initiatives such as this are imperative in our increasingly multicultural communities, says Grant.