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Diversity takes a top priority across campus

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Diversity takes a top priority across campus

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May 4, 2014

From foreign language courses to First-Year Odyssey classes on Bollywood films, and lectures on the Quran to African dance performances, it's all part of well-rounded education, said Michelle Cook, associate provost for institutional diversity at UGA. "Learning about other cultures and being culturally competent is essential to success in the 21st century."

"When a student graduates from UGA and goes out into the workplace, are they equipped with the cultural competencies to successfully and effectively engage with anyone, regardless of their background, regardless of their difference?" Cook asked. "That's the thing we hear from industry, that they need people graduating from college with the capacity to work with individuals who are different than themselves. That is the world that we live in.

"The ability to engage with someone who is different than you and to still be able to be successful. I want that for every UGA student," Cook said.

UGA has 37 cultural international student associations, including the Russian Student Association, the Caribbean Student Association, the Asian American Student Association, the Brazilian Student Association and the Japan Club.

There's also the Pamoja Dance Company. Pamoja, which means unity in Swahili, started out as an African dance company, but now is an inclusive group dedicated to the love of dance. The crew welcomes anyone-from premed student to fashion design major, beginner to technically proficient ballerinas. Show pieces range from the modern and lyrical to hip-hop and fraternity style stepping. The group recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a performance and generally draws crowds of about 200 people.

In fact, some of the university's biggest events are diverse and multicultural: International Street Festival, which draws crowds of more than 5,000; Face Off dance competition, which has an average attendance of more than 600; and India Night and Africa Night, which both draw crowds of more than 500.

The International Coffee Hour, held weekly during fall and spring semesters for the last 40 years, is another event that showcases UGA's diversity. Each week, a different group hosts the coffee hour and features food and culture from around the world. There are fashion shows, breakdancing performances, dance expositions and more. Food and drinks could include international teas, fried chicken, sushi or coffee from Africa. The event can be a "home away from home" for some international students, a chance to practice language skills or a chance to try Indian samosas for the first time. About 300 to 400 faculty, staff and students attend this weekly event. Yearly, the event draws about 9,000 attendees.

UGA is committed to diversity. The 2020 strategic plan calls for increasing the diversity of the student body, faculty and staff. Among some of the student initiatives are:

– African American Male Initiative: UGA aims to enroll, retain and graduate more African-American males. The university is entering its second phases of this initiative, which was launched in the fall. It works to recruit African-American male students to commit to UGA, ensure the students thrive at UGA and research what is learned from the engagement and look at what UGA can share with other institutions on how to effectively engage African-American males.

– GAAME: Georgia African American Male Experience: On April 18-19, a group of 30 high school seniors-all black males accepted to UGA-attended a recruitment event on campus. The students, all highly recruited and in the top of their classes, toured the campus, ate at a dining commons, listened to presentations on networking and career development, attended a leadership workshop, played basketball and watched a step show. Some of the students (who included school valedictorians and students interested in medical school) were already committed, while others were on the fence. The goal for the event was for 25 of the 30 young men to end up at UGA this fall.

– Connections: Student/Faculty Mentoring Program: UGA is revamping its Student/Faculty Mentoring Program that matches accepted underrepresented students with faculty on campus when they're admitted. During the last cycle, 95 UGA faculty members signed on. The program focuses on the first year at UGA and aims to provide students with a personal resource and highlight the accessibility of faculty.

A diverse UGA faculty and staff is also something UGA strives for in the 2020 plan. Efforts in this area focus on recruitment, retention and informing faculty and staff about diversity.

Among those initiatives is the Diversity and Inclusion Certificate. The certificate program was launched in January 2012 to offer training to faculty and staff on how to value and promote diversity at UGA. To date, 98 employees have now completed this six-course program, and the number will nearly double within the year as another 27 have completed the program and will graduate in the fall and another 44 have completed five of the six classes.

Program participants learn about disability access, the university's non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, LGBT awareness and communication among diverse groups. The idea is that certificate program graduates will act as diversity advocates in their workplace.

The classes "allow faculty and staff an opportunity to find out more about what diversity at UGA truly means," Cook said. The classes address "issues of climate and how the university can be a place where people feel comfortable regardless of what group they may represent."

The Office of Institutional Diversity also offers classes and training to campus units that request them. Workshop topics range from engaging diverse groups to effective communication. Last May, almost every dining commons had a diversity workshop. All the Food Services managers are going through the training-chefs and Food Services workers, too. And the entire UGA Gwinnett campus has been through the training.

Another program, "Dialogues in Diversity," is a lunchtime series for faculty and staff to talk about diversity-rather than listen to someone tell them about it. "It's an easy lunch discussion," said Randolph Carter, a program coordinator in institutional diversity. "People sit at a table and engage in cafe-style dialogue."

In April, the discussion focused on the gender politics of food. Past events have looked at politics, art and bullying in schools. Attendees range from custodial services to tenured faculty.

As for faculty recruitment, UGA has a subscription to diversejobs.com. Close to 80 units have their own logins, and in a little more than two years, more than 250 faculty positions have been posted.

Also, UGA works with the Southern Regional Education Board, which holds an annual Diversity Compact that brings together over 1,000 newly minted Ph.D.s or post-docs-all minorities. UGA attends these events to recruit Ph.D.s to come to the school. This year, the event will be in Atlanta and UGA will have a bigger push, recruiting them to come to UGA as visiting scholars or more.

To move diversity forward at UGA, Cook said faculty, staff and students need to celebrate difference. "Everyone must realize that they not only contribute to the diversity that is UGA, but that they are all chief diversity officers," Cook said. "Everyone has the responsibility of making the community a welcoming place for all people."

UGA is midway through implementing its diversity plan. The office will report this fall on progress made and challenges faced.