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Friday, Aug 12, 2022

Inclusivity workshop rolled out for faculty and staff

The college is launching a new workshop program for faculty and staff that will give employees tools to check their biases and create an inclusive campus environment. Called the Inclusive Practitioners Program, this new initiative comes in the wake of several high profile bias incidents in classrooms last spring.

Renee Wells, director of education for equity and inclusion, has designed 14 workshops this fall. She explained that the workshops fall under three different tracks: inclusive design for learning, engaging and supporting diverse communities, and climate and dynamics in learning environments.

The workshops are open to faculty and staff, and participants can either choose to register for individual sessions or to enroll in the program. Program participants commit to attending three workshops this year, as well as brown bag lunch sessions where faculty and staff meet to discuss workshop material further. 

Wells said the program is designed to offer faculty and staff the choice to engage in the kind of learning they want surrounding how to create a more inclusive campus community.

“People can self-select whatever sessions they want,” she said. “If you’re enrolled in the program, you’ve agreed to do three workshops but all three could be in inclusive design. It doesn’t direct faculty into any particular track.”

While many students called for mandatory anti-bias training in the wake of offensive material being used in classrooms last spring, Wells said in her experience opt-in programs work better. 

“You can’t give someone a training that makes them not biased,” she said. “It’s a process of becoming critically more aware. All of these workshops collectively are meant to create ongoing opportunities for people to build capacity across all these areas.”

Wells hopes to attract motivated faculty from the start, and encourages participants to discuss what they have learned with their colleagues to increase interest further. Many faculty and staff, Wells said, have preconceived ideas of what development workshops look like that might make them less interested in participating in these discussions. 

“We’ve all sat through really terrible workshops,” she said. “What I’ve found is once faculty start participating in them they realize very quickly, ‘wow this is really different than I thought it was going to be and I see where I’m benefiting from this.’ So it tends to lead to increased participation.”

The first workshop, scheduled for Sept. 25, is titled “Turning tension into learning opportunities: responding to offensive comments in the classroom.”

Wells has designed the work- shops as spaces of self reflection where participants can build new skills. She explained that some of the workshops will be in a presentation format, and others will involve group problem solving around common issues that come up in the classroom.

Many faculty members and staff have expressed interest in both the workshops and the program. As of the print deadline, 26 faculty and 27 staff have enrolled in the pro- gram, and another eight faculty and staff members have registered for one or more individual work- shops.

Assistant Professor of Economics Tanya Byker signed up for all the workshops that fit in her schedule.

“When it comes to creating an inclusive classroom, I am pretty sure I don’t even know what I don’t know,” she said. “Ignorance is no excuse for screwing this up, especially when I am being offered an opportunity to learn.”

Hector Vila, an associate professor of writing and rhetoric, hopes the five workshops he has signed up for will help guide dialogue about how professors engage on Middlebury’s changing campus.

“As a teacher and professor, it’s my responsibility to keep learning, trying to always be better, more creative about what I do,” he said. “We have a changing student body, we have a changing culture, and so we have to address our teaching so that we can meet the needs of students, now and tomorrow.”

Carol Wood, the college’s costume shop director, decided to participate in the full program. She said she’s looking forward to the workshops’ less-structured atmosphere, which she hopes will allow for participants to share ideas and hear other perspectives more openly.

“It is so necessary to open our minds to other ways of thinking about how the world should work, how we can make sure everyone has a fair shake, how we can transcend our cultural bias,” she said. “I want to become more aware of my own biases, have fewer blind spots, and pass on that learning to others.”

According to Wells, the work- shops will be offered more than once for faculty who could not at- tend the first time, and new sessions will be added. She hopes that, as the program continues, it will start to reach hesitant faculty and staff and start to create true cultural change.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is build this as an expectation for part of the work at Middlebury,” she said.

Part of that expectation will also come out of new hiring practices that ask prospective faculty about how they incorporate inclusivity into their work.

“If you’re submitting something in your application, if you’re going to be asked about it in your interview, if when you get here you are invited to participate in this program, [the culture] shifts.”

Wells has been pleased to see the interest in faculty and staff have already expressed for the program’s first steps.

“A lot of people have already signed up for three or more work- shops already in the fall semester,” she said. “It’s funny because ever since the workshop line up came out ... people will start talking, and then I feel like I’m Elizabeth Warren because I’m like ‘I’ve got a workshop for that.’”