Letter: Give yourself the gift of ‘Dialogues on Diversity’

My heart beat fast, and my palms were soaked. I didn’t know what to expect, but what I did know was that I wanted to leave as soon as I entered the room. I looked around at others sliding their fingers up and down their phones as they waited for class to begin. My thoughts raced before me. What would it be like? Given all that’s been happening at Iowa State and other college campuses, what would we discuss? Why am I here? I took a deep breath, smiled a toothy smile between my flushed cheeks and slowly looked up as the clock struck 1:10.

These experiences I described to you above were both my own and those of my students. While our anxiety and fear of the unknown gradually subsided, we were challenged to step outside of our comfort zones each time we met. What made this challenging, you ask? Well, this is not your ordinary college course. Undergraduate students, you can’t hide behind a laptop screen with Word opened on one tab and Facebook, Twitter and Vine on the others. Graduate students, faculty and staff, you can’t rely solely on previous PowerPoint slides and class notes.

This is a dialogue in which we explore human relations issues by actively learning about our intersecting cultural identities and backgrounds. Goodbye multiple choice and essay tests. Hello, media, individual and group activities.

Undergraduate students, “Dialogues on Diversity,” or H_SCI 150, is a one-credit, half-semester course that meets once a week for two hours. Each section consists of 20 students or less and two facilitators who work together to create a welcoming and empowering climate for mutual learning. Along with helping you meet your U.S. Diversity course requirement, this course allows you and your facilitators to develop skills for meaningful dialogue; reflect on and learn about yourself and others in the context of privilege and oppression; and identify ways to empathize with one another and advocate social justice initiatives. Course content covers material on race relations, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability/disability status and social justice advocacy. Depending on the individual course sections and facilitators, additional material can be added and explored.

Graduate students, faculty and staff, just because you’ve received your bachelor’s degrees does not mean that you stop immersing yourselves in topics outside of your respective fields. As an educator, I have learned that I can interact with students at a cultural and personal level at the same time that I model growth in my ability to engage in difficult conversations. Enriching the personal and professional development of our student body does not only occur during office hours; it happens when we relate to each other’s experiences. Individuals from all areas of study and cultural backgrounds who may or may not have teaching experience are encouraged to facilitate. All facilitators undergo a four-hour orientation experience to introduce them to the course. Lesson plans, opportunities to consult and share materials with other facilitators and compensation are provided.

Whether you are an undergraduate student, graduate student, faculty member or staff member, I challenge you to give yourselves the gift of Dialogues on Diversity. Undergraduate students, register for H_SCI 150; graduate students, faculty and staff, inquire about teaching the course. While you may not remember much from your core or general ed courses, you’ll likely remember the invaluable learning experiences you have with your peers and facilitators. Share and hear others share what diversity looks and feels like at Iowa State. It’s your gift to you, your peers and the greater ISU community to leave our course saying what most of my students shared: the best part of this course was listening to others’ stories in a small, close-knit group.

H_SCI 150 will run from March 7 through May 6, this semester. For more information about the sections offered, visit www.classes.iastate.edu. Please contact Paul Hengesteg ([email protected]) or Stephanie Carrera ([email protected]) to learn more about taking or teaching H_SCI 150.