The University of Wyoming will hold two days of diversity workshops next month for faculty, staff and students, part of a push by the college and a new administrator to boost the school’s minority population and general inclusivity.
The workshops will be led by Kathy Obear, a consultant with the Alliance for Change, according to a UW press release. Obear was invited by Emily Monago, the university’s newly hired chief diversity officer. Monago was hired in May, two months before the university’s board approved a five-year strategic plan. The blueprint includes a goal of boosting enrollment of “underrepresented students” to 17 percent, up from its recent levels of 13 percent.
Last month, the university announced it had hired its first Native American program adviser, Reinette Redbirb Tendore. She was hired by UW eight months after the school announced the creation of the UW Native American Research and Cultural Center. Her mandate is to recruit and retain native students.
The workshops will begin on Feb. 12 with an early afternoon session for faculty and a workshop for students that night. A staff meeting will be held the next morning and will run into the late afternoon.
The faculty session will include learning “how to create inclusive classrooms and recognized unintended classroom dynamics and microaggressions,” among other things, according to the release. The staff meeting on Feb. 13 will have a similar theme.
Students at the Feb. 12 evening session “will learn how to recognize and interrupt exclusionary dynamics and create greater inclusion.”
“This will be an opportunity for the entire campus community to engage in authentic dialogue about dynamics of inclusion and exclusion on campus,” Monago said in a statement. “President (Laurie) Nichols and I encourage all faculty and staff, as well as interested students, to take advantage of this opportunity to hear from and interact with an expert in the field.”
Monago is working on a strategic plan for diversity, spokesman Chad Baldwin said Monday.
“One of the things she recognizes is a need for more training and opportunities,” he said. The workshops will be the first of a string of similar activities across campus.
The sessions are not mandatory, but registration is required. Baldwin said that, to his knowledge, the university currently has no required diversity-related trainings for staff or students. He said that may change in the future but that he didn’t know of any such plans.
The workshops are sponsored by the “Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; the Office of Academic Affairs; the Division of Student Affairs; and the Department of Athletics,” according to the press release.
Baldwin said the athletics department is involved because a “relatively high number of minority students are athletes.”
The workshops come amid a wider debate across college campuses about how to balance free speech with diversity efforts. Last month, Nichols — who previously said hiring a diversity officer was a priority — told the Star-Tribune that “you can’t pick up anything in the world of higher ed and not read about serious issues around racism.”
The debate reached a fever pitch in the fall of 2015, when protests erupted at the University of Missouri. The school had previously faced racism issues: Five years before the protests, for instance, cotton balls were found on the lawn of the school’s black culture center. Two students were later arrested on suspicion of being involved in the incident and were later sentenced to two years unsupervised probation and 40 hours of community service.
In 2015, students protested around MU’s campus. They called for the school’s chancellor and the statewide UM system’s president to both resign. A student began a hunger strike, and the football team said it would not practice. Eventually, both officials stepped down.
Wyoming’s higher education world has not been immune. In late September, a pair of Native American students at Sheridan College received racist threats. A third had her car windows smashed out. The college’s president later announced a number of changes.
In November, Holocaust denial fliers were posted around UW’s campus. The historically inaccurate notices were posted during the university’s remembrance week for the 6 million Jews killed during Nazi Germany’s 1930s and ‘40s campaign of genocide.
It was not the first anti-Semitic incident at the university, and the perpetrator or perpetrators have yet to be identified. Their relation to UW, if any, has also not been determined.
Baldwin said those incidents were not linked to the decision to hold the workshops and that they were a part of Monago’s efforts. He said there was more of a connection to incidents a few years earlier. Former President Dick McGinity had committed to creating a chief diversity officer after activists at UW walked out of a diversity forum he was holding.
Before that, St. Stephens Indian High School students were detained by UW police on suspicion of shoplifting at the university’s bookstore. They were ultimately not charged.
“There was some discontent expressed by some on campus,” Baldwin said of the issues that occurred near the end of McGinity’s tenure as president. “It ties more to that than things that happened at Sheridan or elsewhere.”