SIDE facilitator Mark Orbe addresses the program's first contingent of trainees.

Photographer: Kevin Riddell

Diversity institute

Executive Director of University Communications and Marketing Renea Morris engages in lively discussion on diversity in higher education.

Photographer: Kevin Riddell

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Summer Institute for Diversity Education honors first trainees

Nearly 30 participants from the OHIO community earned certificates in diversity training this week, following the university's inaugural Summer Institute for Diversity Education (SIDE). 

The program, which ran Tuesday through Friday at the Human Resources and Training Center on the Athens campus, focused on the positive impact of diversity at OHIO and the southeastern Ohio region.

"The first group of participants has gained the necessary building blocks to enact change in their respective communities," said program facilitator Mark P. Orbe, an OHIO alumnus and internationally known educator, author and consultant.  "Their charge is to create programs, initiatives and networks so that all members of the Ohio University community, and the communities in which they reside, understand the important role that diversity plays within their everyday -- and future -- interactions."

SIDE was attended by OHIO faculty and staff from Southern, Eastern, Zanesville, Lancaster and Athens campuses, in addition to one OHIO student and several representatives from nearby Hocking College.

During the program, each participant created a specific professional development plan that will guide how they will use the new information in their own professional efforts. A follow-up gathering in January has been planned to reconvene the group to assess their post-institute work.

"We have a responsibility to promote diversity to the community and to our students," said SIDE participant Robert Pleasant, director of enrollment and student services at the Southern campus. "One of the ways of doing that is to come to events like this and to learn a little bit more about diversity and how we can educate others to be inclusive and create a positive environment for all of our students."

Others, like Yea-Wen Chen, an incoming assistant professor of communication studies, plan to incorporate SIDE ideas and activities directly into their course syllabi.

"SIDE gives me a glimpse into the culture and norms at OHIO through the lens of diversity issues that will inform my teaching in important ways," said Chen, a native of Taiwan. "(It also) enables me to interact with allies and change agents across different campuses and departments of Ohio University that I might not otherwise (encounter)."   

Chen will be teaching "COMS 110: Communication between Cultures" on the Athens campus beginning this fall.

The idea for SIDE was created in 2009 amid discussions between Vice Provost of Diversity, Access and Equity Brian Bridges and Orbe, who serves as a professor of communication at Western Michigan University. The first program of its kind in southeastern Ohio, SIDE's 30-hour curriculum is designed to empower and train participants in the art of effective diversity programming on campus and in local communities.

"For me, the biggest highlight has been the engagement of the participants," said Bridges. "Everyone seems to be really enjoying themselves and really learning a lot."

Orbe said he plans to have some of the inaugural participants serve as co-facilitators in future institutes -- which he hopes will be open to a wider audience of participants from the region. First, Bridges said, it's important to have our own house in order.

"The great Wayne Gretzky was once asked how he scored so many goals. His response was, 'I resisted the temptation to skate where the puck was; instead, I learned to skate where the puck was going.' As educators, we need to look to future demographic trends and prepare students for the world in which they will lead – not the world as we historically, currently know it," said Orbe.