William & Mary has been selected as one of 14 institutions nationwide to participate in the inaugural PULSE Institute at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania this July, the Center for Student Diversity (CSD) recently announced.
The institute, offered by the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network, will help college students and staff members develop on-campus discussion programs about diversity in order to build more inclusive communities.
“Participation in the institute will support the CSD’s mission to lead our campus and our students in exploring and engaging in issues of diversity, identity and community,” said Margie Cook, assistant director of the CSD.
A group of five students and staff members from the CSD will attend the PULSE (perspective, understanding, leadership, sustained, exchange) Institute this summer. Because the institute is supported through a gift from the Roger I. and Ruth B. MacFarlane Foundation, W&M’s group will be able to participate in the summer retreat free of charge.
In the fall, the CSD will use what is learned at PULSE to set up a “sustained dialogue” program – another offering of the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network -- at the university as part of a “cohesive campus approach to dialogue around diversity and inclusion,” said Cook.
Currently, all William & Mary students attend a one-hour orientation session on diversity as freshmen, but the university hasn’t had “enough next steps” to take students deeper into conversations after that experience, said Cook.
“So launching the sustained dialogues is going to be a great way to offer the next opportunity for students to have deeper conversations that can give them even greater understanding of how their identities and differences and similarities impact their lives and shape their experiences,” Cook said.
In addition to providing the entire student population more opportunities to delve deeper into discussions about diversity, the PULSE Institute and resulting dialogue program will allow students who are already involved in diversity initiatives on campus – like those who serve as Diversity Peer Educators – to further develop their leadership skills.
“We know from a national study that one of the key things that students identify as contributing to their leadership growth is interactions and conversations across difference, so really being exposed to other ways of thinking, other ways of problem-solving, other ways of approaching tasks and challenges are supremely important to growth and development, and are really critical to students’ future success,” said Cook.
The new program will also help address some of the needs that came to light following the online posting of a Sigma Chi email earlier this semester, said Cook. The email, which was originally sent to the fraternity’s listserv, included demeaning and derogatory references to women and spurred a strong reaction on campus resulting in a town hall meeting and teach-in, among other campus conversations.
“If you want to have respect in a community, people need to have insight and understanding into other people’s experiences, and when that is lacking – when people don’t have the ability to see how someone else’s experience differs from their own or how they are impacted differently by circumstances in their lives – then it’s easy to not realize the impact of actions, words and behaviors,” said Cook.
Students who have been involved with the CSD on campus see W&M’s participation in PULSE as an important opportunity.
“There are a lot of necessary conversations that need to be taking place here on a large scale that aren't happening quite yet,” said Brittney Harrington ’15, a public policy major. “There's no way to make people come to the table -- especially when the ones who need to be learning tend to be the most resistant -- but having the skills that PULSE teaches will be a great starting point.”
The skills that students will learn through PULSE and the sustained dialogue program will not only benefit students while they are at W&M, but as they go on to live and work in an increasingly diverse and complex world, Cook said.
“They need to be equipped to engage with competence and respect and civility with the multiplicity of differences that are going to surround them,” she said.
Hannah Kohn ‘15, a peace and conflict studies major, said that she knows that “passion and innovation” run through the veins of W&M students.“But to really make a difference in our local and global communities, we must learn how to best connect and collaborate with each other, especially when addressing the deeper issues that challenge our lives, experiences, and perceptions,” she said. “I feel strongly that the PULSE Institute will provide us with tools to better facilitate our understandings of one another and to create positive change in our world, together.”