The college required incoming students to complete a cultural competency online training course known as DiversityEdu after a year of student-led protest claiming the college remains complacent in discrimination against students of color.
The requirement comes nearly a year after Protesting Oppression With Educational Reform demanded mandatory online cultural competency training for new students—freshmen and transfers—by fall 2018.
The Office of Campus Life worked with POWER and orientation leaders to select DiversityEdu as the course provider. According to its website, DiversityEdu‘s module specializes in defining diversity, examining assumptions, and addressing microaggressions—indirect or unintentional discrimination against a minority.
According to an informational packet, 89 percent of students who previously completed the course found the skills useful or very useful, and 88 percent believe the lessons can encourage campus diversity.
No statistics exist on DiversityEdu’s website to detail how many students or schools participated, the measurable success rate of the company, or when the course was founded.
“I think there’s mixed feelings about the effectiveness about these kinds of programs,” James Hoppe, vice president and dean of campus life, said. “But there’s evidence I’ve seen that participating in these kinds of programs definitely doesn’t cause harm.”
Hoppe also acknowledged POWER’s petition as the driving force behind the course.
“It was part of our reasonable demands from the petition in the fall,” he said.
A POWER senator was unavailable for comment.
Elias Ferguson, a black freshman journalism major, said he found the course intriguing but didn’t find it all new based on his personal experience.
“I knew what they were talking about,” he said. “The parts about microaggressions … I live that.”
He said he understood how the course could teach lessons to those from less diverse areas and admitted he gained a fair share of knowledge too.
“At [pre-orientation], a lot of us thought the pronouns and gender identity stuff were good to know. That’s not something I grew up with,” Ferguson said.
DiversityEdu designed the course but allows participating schools to customize images, statements, or terminology relevant to a college’s campus atmosphere. Topics include Emerson’s commitment to diversity and what it means to students and how to engage comfortably with differences and search for similarities.
Jessica Guida, Student Government Association executive president and undergraduate orientation co-chair, oversaw the selection of DiversityEdu and gave input on behalf of the orientation staff.
“[DiversityEdu courses] allow everyone to have the same baseline of knowledge coming into the college,” she said. “It covered the things that we thought were important for students to know so we could avoid a kind of cultural shock when they hear these terms or ideas.”
Sabrina Sexauer, a white freshman theatre and performance major, recently completed the course and said she found its instruction on microaggressions helpful.
“That was a big one I’ve never thought about before,” Sexauer said. “I [knew] what microaggressions were, but I didn’t know how to address it or how to even define them.”
She remembers an example of a microaggression from the course—a student telling a girl from Japan that her English was “so good,” despite having spoken English her entire life. This may imply non-native English speakers are not as intelligent or fluent in English as their peers, Sexauer said.
Since last year’s protest, the college continues its attempts to emphasize and highlight on-campus diversity. Freshmen orientation now includes a separate pre-orientation program for students of color.
Sexauer said she noticed a higher respect amongst her classmates for DiversityEdu over Emerson’s other module for incoming students, AlcoholEdu—an educational course the college started administering in the summer of 2017 to prevent alcohol abuse.
“‘Paula and Karl are going to drink alcohol and then they die.’ That’s the tone of AlcoholEdu. I think with DiversityEdu, people respected it,” she said. “We all know about alcohol awareness—I think it’s diversity that we could stand to learn a little bit more.”