Student Facilitators Take Tough Questions on the Road
Master’s students Stephanie Hogue and Tasha Levin needed an icebreaker to get conversation going among a handful of quiet undergraduates who volunteered to attend one of the Counseling Psychology Department’s Diversity Dialogue sessions.
“Partner up with the person next to you and tell them your name or your nickname, how you got it and what the history, family background or cultural significance is of your name.”
The question got people talking and a little more comfortable with each other, which was the point because some tough questions laid ahead for them over the 90 minutes of discussion that followed.
Diversity Dialogues, sponsored by the Vice Provost for Campus Climate and overseen by Counseling Psychology Professor Stephen Quintana, are discussions among groups of eight to 10 people intended to increase participants’ awareness about diversity issues and to provide an opportunity for them to learn and share experiences about diversity with each other.
The dialogues focus on participants’ experiences with and reactions to diversity, challenges associated with diversity, and opportunities for future involvement in diversity.
The dialogues focus on sharing and learning from personal perspectives and experiences and encouraging a sense of community.
Graduate and upper-level undergraduate students in counseling psychology facilitate the dialogues in order to promote an open and respectful atmosphere for exploring, expressing, and learning about diversity issues.
“It’s not about the facilitators spouting off facts and statistics,” said Emily Carroll, a 2008 alumna and former facilitator. “It’s more of a conversation about how they feel about diversity and diversity on campus.”
The dialogues started with the participation of UW students in classes that meet the university’s ethnic studies requirement. But organizers recently expanded the program to include staff development activities at Madison Area Technical College as well as plans to implement a program for 4th and 5th graders at a school with a 50 percent bilingual student body, Quintana said.
Students in Quintana’s facilitator training class have also facilitated dialogues for other off-campus groups including a high school leaders conference for students and teachers, a church group, and an Asian-American college student leadership retreat.
Carroll participated in a pilot version of the dialogues during her first semester of grad school and was so impressed that she signed up for Quintana’s training class.
“It’s such a good experience,” she said. “When they offered it as a course, I jumped at the chance.”
Some people explore these aspects of life on their own time but many others don’t ever have the chance to talk about their feelings and ideas about our social and cultural differences, Carroll said.
“I think that giving people an opportunity to set aside time to do that is really important,” she said. “Attitudes changed … over 90 percent of the time, students came in shy but by the end, it was hard to wrap things up.”
Doctoral student Mariko Medallada Lin, who helps coordinate the dialogues program, said that campus climate has been the biggest issue that comes up among student participants.
Along with the inspiring discussions, she hears jaw-dropping stories from people who have witnessed or experienced hateful behavior based on their race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
“It makes me feel fired up about what I’m doing,” said Lin, whose own studies focus on student affairs in higher education with a focus on academic persistence among students of color. “Every time I walk in, I hear different stories that make me feel this work is important.”
Lin just wishes a wider range of people would participate in the dialogues and that attendance should be a requirement for the ethnic studies classes.
“If we open their eyes to a new perspective, that’s at least what we hope for.”
For more information about Diversity Dialogues, please visit: