The following page is a description of a diversity workshop developed by a group of graduate students in the Penn State Math Department. Members included:
Nate Brown (faculty)
Diane Henderson (faculty)
David Zach (instructor)
In the Summer of 2013, a small group of graduate students formed a committee to explore what we could do to foster diversity in our own department. Our mission is to create an environment where everyone feels supported by their peers. We decided to document our work in hopes that if our program is successful, other graduate math programs could adopt the model.
The approach is broken up into four events:
The informational meeting
The planning meeting
The post-workshop meeting.
We've placed a high priority in giving all students an avenue to express themselves and reflect about the role diversity in the context of their own lives. We believe this to be a crucial component in one's social intelligence. As a result, we see this as key to one's professional development.
The first meeting was designed to help the committee understand diversity in the context of higher education. We looked at collaboration and reviewed how dysfunctional group dynamics can interfere with that. Throughout the meeting, we paused to discuss and reflect. Below is a video of the slide presentation we used.
Unfortunately, the video of the slide presentation is poor quality. It is meant to be used primarily as a reference. We encourage you to use our pdf slides or our tex file to help create your own presentation.
The goal of our second meeting focused on designing the workshop. After much deliberation, the group felt the most productive use of time was to organize graduate students into random groups and ask them to deliberate on one of the topics listed below.
Workplace Humor -- When is a joke not appropriate for the workplace?
Sensitivity to Human Identities -- How can we be welcoming to all global, local, and personal human identities?
Reaction -- What are constructive ways to handle faux pas when they happen?
Inclusion -- How can we be inclusive and welcoming to all students (esp. foreign students)?
Academically Disparaging Attitudes -- How do we foster an environment where students are inspired to work hard?
Respecting Students -- As teachers, what do we need to be mindful of when interacting with our students?\
Gossip -- When is gossip appropriate, if ever?
Professionalism -- What are the basic expectations in a professional environment?
After the groups discuss, each group will draft a segment of a Community Contract. In this contract, graduate students will outline the expectations they have for each other and themselves to create a productive environment for everyone. The contract will be created (live) during the meeting. It will be available on this wikispace where all graduate students will have access to edit and update for the rest of the year.
The group also decided to organize simple social events in the department after the workshop. These events will aim to facilitate a more cohesive culture.
Our workshop took place on Thursday, September 26 at 3:35pm in the Synergistic Room. You can find an advertisement for the event with emails and flyers.
Roughly 20 students attended the event. To make the discussion more dynamic, we combined groups and gave each group two topics. These were the new groups
Workplace Humor & Reactions
Sensitivity to Human Identities & Inclusion
Respecting Students & Academically Disparaging Attitudes
Professionalism & Gossip
Because each group was given two topics, we extended the discussion period and eliminated the presentation portion. We instead asked each organizer responsible for the discussion topic to take notes in order to draft the contract at a later date.
Post Workshop Meeting
This meeting was held two weeks after the event to give organizers some time to reflect and observe any impacts. Those who attended had very positive things to say about the event. Each group contributed excellent ideas, all of which can be found here.
The organizers unanimously felt this was a productive activity for students and should continue as an annual tradition. We thought the format was good and we would like to keep it as a discussion-based activity.
We also feel that all graduate students should have the opportunity to organize this event. This will keep the event fresh and different from year to year as well as encourage more involvement.
The biggest issue was attendance. We had 20% of the graduate students attend, which is significant enough to affect the social atmosphere. However, many of the organizers felt that increasing attendance would increase the impact. Here were some of the recommended improvements we'd like to see next time:
Make the workshop mandatory or let it count as one of the required colloquiums. A number of students would have gone had the event been mandatory or counted toward the 12 colloquium sessions graduate students are required to attend. Neither of these is unreasonable given that the subject matter is pertinent to professional development and is structured in a way to be engaging to all who come.
Have the workshop take place earlier in the year, like the second week of school. Students will have less work during that time. A few graduate students did not attend because of homework.
Advertise the purpose of the workshop. Many mistakenly thought the community contract was a set of rules to abide by rather than a set of ideals for which to strive. Next time we have the event, we need to clearly communicate that the purpose of the event is to help us reflect about our environment and our impact on it.
Advertise in a more engaging way. Our advertisements were mostly flyers, emails, and word of mouth. Next time, we'd like to employ class announcements. This will reach more students and give an opportunity for professors to comment.
Emphasize the importance of RSVPing. A number of people who came did not RSVP primarily because advertising was inconsistent about this.
Design the discussion to be more flexible based on attendance.
While doubling up the groups was a good way to keep the groups engaging, it meant missing out on an important part of the program: presenting the discussion of every group. To keep that from happening in the future, we'd like to see the design of the program be more flexible with regard to attendance.
To keep the ideas going, we'd like to host informal social events to encourage more discussion and interaction between graduate students. The first event was a community lunch day on October 31st. We are currently collecting games for our common room, as well.