UW-Madison Department of Counseling Psychology Anthony Wilder profile

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Master's candidate helps foster positive campus atmosphere through 'Diversity Dialogues'

On a campus where students do not often have the space to talk about diversity-related issues, Anthony Wilder is doing his best to fill that void.

Wilder, 25, is a second-year master’s student in the Department of Counseling Psychology at the School of Education, and currently a teaching assistant and coordinator of the “Diversity Dialogues.” In this role, Wilder coordinates with professors to get interested students registered for one of a variety of dialogue sessions, which occur six times per week.

Each dialogue consists of eight to ten students convening for 90 minutes to talk about a specific diversity topic, with discussion facilitated by a trained Counseling Psychology master’s or Ph.D. student.

“Our hope is that when the session is over, these students will go out and continue the conversation on their own or are at least more open to hearing what people’s experiences are and learn from that,” Wilder said. “What I’ve found out is the dialogues help people gain a better understanding of others’ personal experiences by giving them the place to talk about issues they might have been afraid to talk about before.”

While all students on UW’s campus are required to take an ethnic studies course during their time here, those classes often fail to provide the forum for diversity-related topics to be discussed on a student-to-student level. A course might discuss a race or gender group’s experiences on a larger, more societal level, but does not necessarily offer the opportunity for a student to voice their own personal experiences in the context of a specific diversity issue.

The Diversity Dialogues program was an initiative headed by the office of the Vice Provost for Campus Climate along with the Department of Counseling Psychology and started a few years ago to foster a more positive atmosphere on Madison’s campus.

The topics discussed in the program range from “Coastie vs. Sconnie” to “LGBT and allies” to other topics focused predominantly on race. Some subjects are more advanced and require students to express deeper feelings regarding the more controversial diversity issues.

New this year is the integration of the dorms into the program. Wilder used his unique position as a House Fellow and Diversity Dialogues coordinator to establish a conversation in the dorms once a week so students can further their understanding of people with whom they share close quarters.

“What is great about bringing the dialogues to the dorms is that every week there is a new group of students, but because they live together, they can continue the conversation with their neighbors, their roommate, or even their house fellow to spread the word about a specific issue,” Wilder said. “Hopefully that brings some additional unity and harmony within their respective dorms too.”

Wilder typically doesn’t facilitate the Diversity Dialogues discussions himself, but when he does, he quickly identifies what the students want to get out of the discussion and tailors the structure from there. In the future, Wilder sees himself doing similar advising, mentoring and counseling on a college campus, which is quite a turn from what he once saw himself doing.

A student of music and journalism during his undergrad at UW, Wilder was set on finding a job in advertising once he received his degree. But when jobs were steadily drying up during the economic recession, Wilder had to reevaluate his situation.

“When I wasn’t finding work right away I talked to one of my old bosses who suggested I look into doing some advising or counseling with students, and this just kind of snuck up on me to be honest. I was a peer mentor during my undergrad here and I’ve always loved working with students, but I never really thought ‘hmm, maybe I should do this for a career’.”

As Wilder works to complete his degree in Counseling Psychology, he has started to look into possible Ph.D. programs to further his education. In an ideal world, Wilder would love to be an academic dean one day because it blends advising, counseling and administrative work into one position.

“Working with students can be taxing at times – they have a lot of different problems and different ways of solving those problems,” Wilder said. “It can be a tiresome job, but I love it.”

When he isn’t involved with the Diversity Dialogues and helping students on the UW campus, Wilder is known to get down and boogie. He has been choreographing dance routines for the African Students Association on campus over the past three years, and also performs with two dance groups in Madison.

“I’m part of the Limanya Drum and Dance Ensemble, which does Guinean style dances, music and songs,” Wilder said.  “With Atimevu Drum and Dance Group, I perform dances and songs from Ghana.”

“Dancing is a great passion of mine outside of school and it pays! It keeps me busy and a little income on the side always helps.”

Anthony Wilder received his master's degree in Counseling in Spring 2013.

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