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Diversity Training takes hold at Notre Dame

Teresa Fralish | Thursday, September 30, 2004

In tandem with Notre Dame’s effort to improve its reputation on student diversity, offices and departments across campus have increasingly initiated diversity training programs for their staffs – from student peer advisors to LaFortune building managers.But rather than a single office overseeing all programs, individual departments and offices have tended to develop their own unique programs – an approach administrators praise. “When you have one department responsible for all diversity programs, then people start to think this is not their responsibility,” said David Moss, assistant vice president for Student Affairs. “Everyone is saying we own this [issue].”Though some University offices, such as Institutional Equity and Multicultural Students Programs and Services, play a significant role in promoting diversity, most diversity training programs are sponsored, planned and implemented by departments themselves. This fall, freshman advisor and Notre Dame graduate Christy Fleming helped conduct first-time diversity training for peer advisors in First Year of Studies. Fleming previously served as a University admissions counselor and focused on minority student recruitment. “I think Notre Dame is much more multi-cultural now,” she said. In the training, Fleming said she asks senior peer advisors to reflect on their own opinions and how they might affect their views. “As a counselor, I try to point out that they need to address any biases they have,” she said. “I point out that they could be misinterpreted.” Through Student Affairs, Moss has helped run a diversity training program for all freshmen students. For the first two years, the program was conducted in the residence halls but was incorporated into the freshmen health class in 2001. “It’s hard to have a mandatory meeting in the residence halls,” Moss said. “We decided to move it into the academic realm.”The current program spends two class periods educating freshmen on diversity issues through the help of student trainers, who participate in a concurrent class on diversity education. Moss said he feels the freshmen program and the student trainer program have been very successful.”There’s a high interest in this area,” he said. “This is one venue by which students can make a difference.”In Student Activities, all LaFortune student workers, such as building mangers and information desk employees, complete a diversity training session during fall orientation, said assistant director Ryan Willerton. The training program began several years ago and has changed somewhat over time. “We invited campus representatives from various departments [to speak this fall],” Willerton said. Because LaFortune student employees often have contact with the general public, Willerton said diversity training is especially important. “They may not recognize that they’re the face of Notre Dame,” he said. “[But] this is our front line operation.”Cathy Ewing, a human resources manager, oversees diversity training for that department. “Our focus is not just on nationality, ethnic or religious diversity, but also about diversity with regard to social-economics [and] how people form biases,” she said. “We try to focus on similarities.”In addition to University-wide programs, Ewing said at least half of the diversity training she conducts focuses on specific departments. “It’s really beneficial to go through the training with the people that you work with day in and day out,” she said. In contrast to some other departments, Ewing noted that the demand for diversity training in human resources has increased and decreased over the years, probably due to staff turnover, she said. “It’s cyclical,” she said. “It becomes a real concern for organizations and then it fades away and then it becomes important.”