Demand growing for WSU’s model community and equity training

Exterior of the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center.
The Community and Equity Certificate Program leadership team is based in the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center on the Pullman campus. (Photo by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services.)

The Community and Equity Certificate Program is helping faculty and staff across the Washington State University system expand their understanding of equity-mindedness and build a toolkit for engaging more effectively with students, colleagues, and community partners.  

Since the program started in 2019, over 1,300 people have participated in at least one of its workshops, which lay the groundwork for a challenging, personal journey for individuals who are committed to creating equitable and inclusive environments. Currently, 177 people are working toward completing the program and 83 have earned a certificate. There are 12 different workshops available on topics such as building coalitions, implicit bias, and inclusive pedagogy, and the Community and Equity leadership team welcomes ideas for new ones.  

Matthew Jeffries, director of campus climate and community building in the Division of Student Affairs, is pleased with the interest faculty and staff have shown in the program.

“We have had extraordinary demand,” he said. “We are filling almost every session as soon as they are offered.”

To help meet the demand, Jeffries said nine new instructors are undergoing training and will soon be ready to lead Equity 101, the program’s foundational workshop. In all, the program relies on 25 volunteer workshop leaders from the Pullman, Tri-Cities, and Spokane campuses.

Having an impact

Jeffries attributes some of the program’s growing popularity to people hearing about it from supervisors, colleagues, and friends who have participated in it.  

Heather Ramos, an instructor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies in the Department of English, described her experience in the certificate program as “valuable, fun, and unexpected.”

“As a feminist teacher, I create classroom spaces where we co-construct knowledge together, and this is exactly what the workshops felt like,” Ramos said. “In the breakout rooms, we got to know each other, brainstormed together, and shared our perspectives and knowledge.” 

Kara Whitman, an assistant professor in the School of the Environment, likened the workshop breakout discussions to a faculty learning community where participants may not have all the answers, but feel comfortable sharing ideas and hearing other perspectives.

“I thought it was fantastic,” Whitman said. “One of the things I appreciated most was learning the language, how we can express misunderstanding without being offensive.”

She said the training has been particularly useful in helping her students navigate the issues discussed in her environmental conflict resolution class, which focuses on people’s different values and perspectives on the environment. 

Important to building community

The Community and Equity workshop series was developed in response to a student protest on the Pullman campus in the fall of 2017. Among the protesters’ requests was one that all faculty and staff receive cultural competency training.

While faculty and staff are not required to participate in the program, Jeffries said it offers something for everyone. 

“Everyone should make the time for this training,” Whitman said. “Making our students comfortable here at WSU, in our classes, is important and should be a top priority for all faculty.”

Even future doctors in the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine can treat their patients more effectively when they are able to consider diverse perspectives, said Amberlynne Umayam, who works with internal medicine residency students at the hospital in Everett. Umayam earned her Community and Equity Certificate last May.

“This kind of training is becoming more pronounced as people are realizing it is key to community building,” Umayam said. “We are so lucky to have such a fantastic program right here at our university.”

To learn more about the Community and Equity Certificate Program, visit the HRS website. Summer and fall workshop dates will be posted soon.

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