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Blugolds embrace new opportunities to grow their cultural competency

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Madalyn McCabe is among the Blugolds who already enrolled in UW-Eau Claire's new student EDI certificate program.

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire now have new opportunities to grow their cultural competency, better preparing them for success on campus and in an increasingly global workforce.

The newly created Center for EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Training, Development and Education offers Blugolds a variety of programming options that aim to enhance their understanding of EDI, while helping them become more culturally responsible and knowledgeable, says Jodi Thesing-Ritter, director of the Center for EDI Training, Development and Education.

“This center is UW-Eau Claire’s next step in expanding the breadth and quality of EDI training available to our campus community,” Thesing-Ritter says. “We know the EDI training we’ve offered to faculty and staff for several years has moved the needle on campus, so we are excited to now give our students these same kinds of opportunities.

“Through the new center, we are expanding and strengthening existing EDI training and making it available to all faculty, staff and students, while also creating new initiatives specific to our students.”

Educating the campus community about EDI-related issues will help create a more welcoming campus environment for everyone, and better prepare students for their future careers because cultural competency is valued in every industry and expected in new professionals, Thesing-Ritter says.

UW-Eau Claire’s commitment to helping students become more culturally competent is among the reasons she became a Blugold, says Madalyn McCabe, a sophomore from New Berlin.

A social studies education major with an emphasis in history and political science who is pursuing minors in European studies and French, McCabe already has participated in some of the university’s EDI-related programs, such as the Civil Rights Pilgrimage.

The EDI Center’s training is another opportunity for her to learn about diverse people on her campus and in the world, says McCabe, who plans to study abroad when international travel is again safe. Better understanding the experiences and perspectives of people who are different from herself will make her a better teacher and person, she says.

“I hope to become someone who more deeply understands the changes that we need to make as a society to create spaces in which equity, diversity and inclusivity are consistently talked about and strived for,” McCabe says. “As a student, I think this training will have me approach my classes differently, especially my history classes, and encourage me to think more critically about what I am learning and how I hope to teach these subjects in the future.”

Multiple opportunities for students

For the first time, this fall all new students at UW-Eau Claire completed a required online EDI training session, Thesing-Ritter says, noting that returning students were encouraged but not required to complete the training.

In October, the new center, through its Student EDI Development and Training initiative, began offering students programs and workshops that focus on EDI-related topics. The offerings include everything from interactive training sessions to book clubs to movies and discussions.

“Through training and conversations, we will help students better understand EDI, learn about the experiences of underrepresented populations, create a safe space to discuss EDI-related topics, and increase students’ awareness of identities, biases and privileges,” Thesing-Ritter says, adding that for now, all programs are virtual.

Student programming will focus on topics that are relevant to UW-Eau Claire, so students will learn about their peers and the campus community, says Khong Meng Her, an associate student services coordinator who is helping to develop the student EDI programming.

“I believe this will help bridge the gap between our student body as they learn more about each other,” Her says. “I also want the topics to be relevant to the current political world and what is going on, so our students stay up to date, something that is especially important to students who are graduating soon and will be joining a diverse workforce.”

Programs will focus on many different EDI-related topics, allowing students to choose sessions that most closely align with their interests, Her says. Examples of topics to be explored during training sessions include microaggressions, Native populations and lands, terms and issues relating to LGBTQIA+ and intercultural intelligence.

Students who enroll in the center’s “Diverse Voices Book Challenge” will learn about different populations, identities and experiences of people who are part of the campus community by reading, discussing and reflecting on a series of books.

Her hopes that students who engage in these training sessions and activities graduate feeling like they are part of the UW-Eau Claire community but also part of a global community.

“I hope they can go anywhere in the world and use their knowledge to help them better relate and work with future colleagues and community members,” Her says. “I also hope they have the knowledge they need to help educate those around them in what it means to be a global citizen.”

EDI training certificate

Students now also can earn an EDI Student Leadership Certificate by completing 10 EDI programs and an approved EDI-related project, which they will present during a campus event.

The certificate program will help students better understand EDI; give them an opportunity to learn about the experiences of underrepresented populations; and provide a safe space for students to engage, challenge and support other students as they learn about EDI-related topics and increase awareness of their own identities, biases and privileges.

The certificate program is designed so students can complete it quickly or take their time, so one student may earn their certificate in a semester while another may take four years, Her says. The flexibility means that students can join at any point in their college career, he says.

While the certificate program was just announced, students already are enrolling in it, says Katy Rand, senior coordinator of student leadership. Student interest has been high overall, but especially among seniors who are eager to earn their certificate before they graduate, she says.

McCabe is among the students who already have enrolled in the certificate program. She’s eager to increase her knowledge and understanding, while engaging with other Blugolds who also are committed to becoming more culturally competent.

Given her already hefty academic load, she appreciates that she can complete the certificate at her own pace, says McCabe, who is part of the University Honors Program.

McCabe says the program’s format — no semesterlong classes and no grades given — will encourage more students to participate in a more authentic way.

“I think there will be less pressure on students to find a ‘right’ answer and be willing to be more vulnerable,” McCabe says. “The whole experience is meant to help students unpack what it means to have a mindset focused on EDI and what we can do to reach that place.

“By formatting the certificate this way, UW-Eau Claire is recognizing that we need spaces without judgment and formal grading, spaces where we can learn and explore EDI concepts with each other.”

Students who complete the program will receive a certificate and a letter of accomplishment, documents that will help them demonstrate their commitment to EDI when applying for jobs or internships, Her says.

'Bridge to Change' conference

The new center will host a “Bridge to Change” conference in November, bringing student leaders together to explore inclusive leadership while focusing on equity and diversity.

The conference will run from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 8.

Through workshops and presentations, students will explore topics that impact the campus community, Rand says of the conference. Participants will learn about various areas of diversity, while developing an understanding of their own role in the greater picture, she says.

“I think this conference will be a good opportunity to learn and unlearn in a safe space with others,” McCabe says. “While the individual sessions are great, the ‘Bridge to Change’ conference gives us more time to unpack what it means to promote EDI practices in professional and personal environments.”

Students enrolled in the certificate program are encouraged to attend the conference, Rand says.

“We’ve been seeing  a great deal of interest in both the workshops and the conference,” Rand says. “I think students are excited that this opportunity exists within our campus community and that they can tangibly demonstrate to future employers a commitment to EDI education.

“Students who take part in the program will build competencies around inclusive leadership for themselves and others, creating a new standard for what it means to be a Blugold.”

An even brighter future

McCabe’s high school teachers were so supportive and encouraging that they inspired her to pursue a career in teaching. As an educator, she hopes to inspire her students to believe that they, too, can do anything, McCabe says.

“I was drawn to teaching history and political science because I want students to understand that they have the power to take lessons from history and use it to make a change,” McCabe says. “The idea of using my career to empower others is my main reason for going into teaching.”

To do that, she says, she needs to understand people whose cultures and experiences are different from her own.

“From learning about the experiences of BIPOC, as well as people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and others who have diverse backgrounds, these training sessions will be something that I will refer to long after I complete this certificate,” McCabe says. “I may take more than the 10 required sessions because of how valuable they will be in both my personal and professional life.”

McCabe is confident that the EDI trainings will help her be a better teacher. Her hope, she says, is that all her future students will feel like they have a place in her classroom, and that they can see themselves and their identities in the content she teaches.

She also said the EDI programs and other experiences she has as a Blugold will give her the knowledge and understanding she needs to model for her students how to make equity, diversity and inclusivity a priority in and out of the classroom.

“I want to learn how to consistently check my privilege and understand what I can do to ensure that people of privilege — especially myself in places like the classroom — don’t take up space at the expense of marginalized groups,” McCabe says. “Understanding how and when to take up space is something everyone should strive to do. We need to understand the powers we have to make our world — and especially our country right now — a place where everyone has a voice.”

To learn more

For more information about the Center for EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Training, Development and Education, contact Jodi Thesing-Ritter at 715-836-3651 or thesinjm@uwec.edu. Information also can be found on the university's Student EDI website.