University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


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UW-Eau Claire to Take Diversity
Education Program into Community

 MAILED:  May 17, 2004

EAU CLAIRE — A resource for University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus community will be increasingly available to the greater Eau Claire community.

Peer Diversity Educators, a UW-Eau Claire Housing and Residence Life student-run organization that presents interactive diversity education workshops on campus, received a grant to expand its programs into the Eau Claire community.

The $2,500 Citizen Scholar Grant is from the Corporation for National and Community Service through the Learn and Serve America Higher Education Program.

The organization’s mission statement notes that its goal is to, “promote understanding and respect for people of all abilities, creeds, races, social classes, genders, and sexual orientations.” The group will use the grant money to take that mission to the Eau Claire community, said PDE coordinator Jodi Thesing-Ritter.

PDE has put on workshops at area high schools and middle schools, Thesing-Ritter said. Members will use the grant money to increase their visits to local schools, she said.

The PDE program facilitates discussion and learning by using interactive role-playing programs and personal testimony from the educators, Thesing-Ritter said. The role-playing helps students empathize with different groups by putting them in other peoples’ shoes, even if only for a short time, said peer diversity educator Becky Piotrowski.

“This approach is definitely more eye-opening to students,” said Sharon Griffin, a UW-Eau Claire alumnus and student-teacher at North High school who invited PDE to speak to her class. “Sometimes when the roles are reversed and say, for example, students who are not normally in the minority become the minority, they become more aware of how they have been treating others and will change their behaviors.”

The personal testimony has a lasting impact on students, said peer diversity educator Sally Trnka. “Adding real life stories to the statistics makes people take it with them,” she said.

Thesing-Ritter said hearing from other students helps students when discussing sensitive or new issues. “Peer education is the best way for handling tough topics,” said Thesing-Ritter. “The peer diversity educators can also be role models for students.”

PDE trainers speak to Susan Turell’s women’s studies classes every semester.

“Teaching in women’s studies, almost every presentation they do fits what I teach about,” said Turell. “The students like it. It helps to hear the info from other students.”

Piotrowski said high school students also might be more willing to accept messages from college students. “We’re in college so to them we’re young and cool,” she said.

Griffin said students looked up to the peer diversity educators when they spoke to her class. “Because the students that come to present are in college, I think that the students have a lot of respect for them and look at the members of PDE as role models,” she said.

Associate vice chancellor for Student Development and Diversity Kimberly Barrett, whose office is matching funds for the grant along with Housing and Resident life, said taking the PDE program to area schools is a positive step.

“I believe that children learn prejudice and exposing them early to alternative ways of interacting with people based on mutual respect is very important,” said Barrett. “Research shows that this type of programming, as well as diversity in the student body and in the curriculum, make for a better education for all students.”

If the feedback Griffith has been getting is any indication, the demand for PDE at local schools will increase as people become more aware of the opportunity.

“My students really enjoyed the program … many of the students expressed interest in having PDE come back and present a different program,” said Griffith. “The teachers I worked with were very impressed with PDE and were very excited to discover a program like this existed.”


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 Judy Berthiaume, Director
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 201
(715) 836-4741

Updated: May 17, 2004