UVM diversity training tackles Midwestern mentality

On Sunday, the University held its first annual diversity training specifically focused on white, midwestern American cultural differences by bringing a team of 10 professional traveling lecturers.

Training took place in the Davis Center Grand Maple Ballroom, Billings Library and several smaller focus groups scattered across campus.

“We realized with our previous accounts of diversity we were leaving out large swathes of unrepresented groups,” UVM diversity officer Martha Guthrie said.

“This innovative new program is meant to correct that.”

Professionals were brought to Burlington from cities like Canton, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan, most of whom worked odd jobs after being laid off from low-tech manufacturing.

Though they all sprung from different backgrounds, each found a renewed sense of dignity when they began touring liberal arts college campuses up and down the east coast.

Such is the story of Tim Dunn, fire-extinguisher repairman from Dayton, Ohio. “I never saw an ocean until I talked with some folks down in Boston,” Dunn said. “This experience has been as mind-opening for me as I hope it is for the students we get to spend time with.”

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The training activity ranged from discussion of calling midwesterners “flatlanders” as micro-aggression, or “everyday slights that target persons based upon their marginalized group,” according to the Psychology Today webpage, to intense discussions about differences in political beliefs and family values.

According to the UVM event webpage, “Activities were designed to break down cultural barriers between people from the Midwest and Eastern United States because diversity and learning are inseparable here at UVM.”

Students were amazed.

“I didn’t realize life could ever be difficult for a white person,” said junior Alex Johnson, who attended the training session.

Others felt enlightened.

“I’m excited to continue these cultural exchanges in years to come,” first-year Kristina Clark said. “I feel like my college experience has been enriched.”

The University hopes to strengthen this initiative with the new semester abroad programs to Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, according to Guthrie.

At the end of the training session, students were given a chance to ask any questions they wanted without fear of judgement.

“I’ve gotten some strange questions,” Dunn said. “Someone once asked me if I’d ever been caught cow-tipping. Another student wanted to know whether I’d ever been to a urban center.”

Guthrie said they’re even considering a University-wide diversity requirement including new courses REL 078 Evangelical Christianity and ENVS 133 Sustainable Corn Farming.

The reaches of this initiative don’t stop there, however. “We plan to increase our representation of Great Plains students by 10 percent in the next five years,” University President Tim Sweeney said. “It’s all part of the link between diversity and academic excellence.”