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Pictured is the Summer Institute for Diversity Education (SIDE) Class of 2016. Twenty-nine individuals participated in the seventh annual program May 17-20 on the Athens Campus.

Pictured is the Summer Institute for Diversity Education (SIDE) Class of 2016. Twenty-nine individuals participated in the seventh annual program May 17-20 on the Athens Campus.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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OHIO hosts seventh annual SIDE diversity education training

The seventh annual Ohio University Summer Institute for Diversity Education (SIDE) was held May 17-20 at the Athens Campus. SIDE is sponsored by the University’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion.

Ohio University alumnus and Western Michigan University Professor of Communication Mark P. Orbe has facilitated the annual training since it was launched in 2009 to empower and educate participants in the art of effective diversity programming. 

Orbe, an internationally known educator, author and consultant, uses a variety of individual and group exercises during the 30-hour training to accomplish this goal.

This year, 29 participants received a certificate in diversity training and three continuing education units (CEU) after completing the four-day training. About 160 people have participated in SIDE, the first program of its kind in southeastern Ohio, since its inception.

Orbe said this year's cohort was the first to include a state government employee and also included school teachers from Ironton City Schools, faculty and staff from throughout Ohio University, chairs and directors from various OHIO departments and programs, and the interim dean of the College of Fine Arts.

“What really makes the program unique each year is just the population,” Orbe explained. 

And this year was unique because the cohort had the greatest proportion of male participants to date. “That has created a really interesting dynamic because historically women have embraced the responsibility for diversity education more so than men,” he added.

“The more diversity we have, it just makes the experience more valuable and more enlightening,” he said. 

This year’s cohort included a first-grade, an eighth-grade and a high school teacher from Ironton City Schools. Their interaction with OHIO and private sector employees meant this year’s participants could see the full spectrum of how the training has the potential to positively impact an individual – from grade school to high school to higher education and beyond.

Orbe explained that while the SIDE programming stays relatively consistent each year due to its success, he is always looking for ways to improve the experience. For example, this year he added a new exercise to the training.

There was universal agreement from the SIDE participants about the value of the experience. 

Chris Caldwell, an administrative specialist with OHIO’s Department of African American Studies, signed up for SIDE to learn some activities and practical applications that he can use in programs he’s involved in outside of the classroom. This past year, Caldwell led the University’s African American Male Initiative and helped facilitate some of OHIO’s Campus Conversations. Next fall, he plans to get involved in a healthy masculinities group.

“I may have a lot of theoretical knowledge on diversity and working through and across differences, but as far as having the activities to actually put a structure to those theories and models, I didn’t have that before this,” Caldwell said. “What this experience has done for me is changed my capacity for being able to develop interactive activities around diversity. I didn’t know that there were so many different ways that we could make diversity into a practical application.”

Caldwell also noted how the program affected him on a personal level.

“I’ve come to find that being able to work within and through differences is a matter of mindfulness,” he said. “For me personally, I consider myself mindful more often than not, but you know what? Taking the additional training puts you back into that mindset and really just strengthens that part of your brain which too often we take for granted.”

Renee Davis-Carroll, a training program manager for the Ohio Industrial Commission, was encouraged to participate in the SIDE program by a colleague who is a former OHIO professor and a SIDE alumnus. 

“One of the things that I think was very helpful was getting people to get comfortable talking about what they felt diversity was, some misconceptions, and feeling safe to openly admit some of their biases and things like that,” Davis-Carroll said. “It was a very safe and comfortable place for people to have that conversation.

“What surprised me,” she added, “was how comfortable people became to get more and more candid and disclose more and more information about themselves. That was surprising and yet, at the same time, it was very empowering. … It was almost like a sense of love.”

Davis-Carroll said she was leaving the program with a renewed commitment to hearing and truly understanding others.

“I don’t think anybody is a bad person,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of giving them enough respect to listen and understand them and then enlighten them.”

Denise Turner, an eighth-grade math and science teacher at Ironton Middle School, said she is looking forward to returning to her school district, sharing the SIDE program with her colleagues and implementing some of what she’s learned into her classroom.

“I think I’ve grown so much as a person, which will help me as a teacher,” Turner said.

She noted that Orbe not only presented the program and the activities, but also provided the group with a great packet of materials so the participants can carry the SIDE program on into their own respective circles.

Turner said she plans to incorporate one of the SIDE activities into her classroom at the start the new school year. That activity, she said, provides participants prompts that allow them to share information about themselves that is not easily perceived by others.

“I think I can readily transfer that into the classroom,” Turner said. “I can start off the year knowing my students a little bit better so I can better serve them.”

Turner said her biggest surprise about the SIDE program was just how hands on it was.

“It hasn’t been like a lecture format where you’re just sitting there and taking everything in. Mark interacts with us, we interact with each other, and that’s been really great,” she said. “Not having a fear of being able to talk about differences and similarities with others is only beneficial in a communication setting. Whether it’s in a classroom or with your colleagues, being able to have that open dialogue is important. … My colleagues who are here and I have already talked about going back and thanking our superintendent for sending us to this program because it has been such a positive experience.”

Maureen Wagner, assistant dean with the College of Fine Arts, described SIDE as “more of an experience than a training” and summed up the participants’ sentiments with the statement, “You should just make the time and do it.”

The program is open to anyone who is interested in increasing their knowledge and gaining the skills needed to become a diversity education trainer. For information about SIDE 2017, contact Amanda Howery-Graham, executive assistant to the vice provost for diversity and inclusion, at 740-593-2617 or howerya@ohio.edu or visit the Office for Diversity and Inclusion website at http://www.ohio.edu/diversity/.