University of Wisconsin Dean of Students Lori Berquam outlined plans to expand the Our Wisconsin diversity training program to include all incoming students attending Student Orientation, Advising and Registration in a telephone conference Monday.
Our Wisconsin, an initiative designed to improve the campus racial climate through student- and faculty-led cultural competency workshops, will expand to cover all 7,000 students who attend SOAR. Berquam said the most recent campus climate progress report shows the initiative has been successful in improving student outlooks toward diversity on campus.
The $80,000 expansion, approved by UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank, calls for hiring an additional full-time staff member and more student and faculty facilitators to lead workshops. Students will still be able to opt out of the program, but Berquam said few students choose not to participate in optional SOAR programing. Previously, Our Wisconsin had a budget of $240,000.
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The Our Wisconsin program will now be divided into two phases — an inclusion program during SOAR, followed by a three-hour Our Wisconsin workshop that will place in residence hall communities in the first two weeks of class.
“The tenants of both are to introduce students to communities in UW-Madison and to build a framework for inclusivity that we want for all of our students,” Berquam said.
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The logic behind having the program earlier in the year, Berquam said, is that students will be more likely to attend the second session if they don’t have to deal with mounting academic pressures that come later in the year.
Berquam said the initiative shows promise, and cited an increase in participants being comfortable about having conversations about race. Preworkshop and postworkshop assessments showed an increase from 12 to 19 percent of respondents who strongly agreed they would have more conversations about race.
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Providing snacks and reducing the lengths of workshops were the most frequent comments left by participants, according to the 2016 Our Wisconsin Executive Summary. Berquam said UW addressed this by splitting the program into two phases, totalling four hours rather than the original five-hour program.
The program is not limited to promoting race-inclusivity, Berquam said.
“[Our Wisconsin promotes] differences of all types, differences of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, but also differences of political [views], religion and ethnicities,” Berquam said. “It involves race, but it isn’t just race.”
Students interested in becoming an Our Wisconsin facilitator can apply here.