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Viewpoint Article: UW Faculty and Staff Step Up to Learn

It’s 9 a.m. one morning in May and Caprice Hollins, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of a race-relations consulting firm, is gearing up for a full day of workshops. In a classroom packed with faculty and staff in UW Bothell’s Founders Hall, she will share stories of her multiracial family and of growing up in Seattle. Then she will invite her audience to reflect on their own stories.

Through the participants’ personal narratives, Hollins guides them to examine how their experiences have shaped their worldviews, values and beliefs. The workshop, Cultural Competence: Addressing Race Relations in the 21st Century, was one in a pilot series last spring for staff and faculty through the UW Race & Equity Initiative. Hollins, Greg Taylor of Community Connection Consulting, and diversity trainer Rosetta Lee led over 20 workshops on the Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell campuses. The workshops, which filled up in the first few days of registration, provided employees with a foundation for understanding racial equity, bias and history, an important step in confronting the barriers to change at the University.

Rosetta Lee leading the “What I Said and What I Meant: Cross-Cultural Communication” workshop.

By the time the pilot series wrapped up in July, more than 450 UW employees had taken part. The Race & Equity Initiative, which UW President Ana Mari Cauce established in 2015, comes with three major goals: to help members of the UW community confront individual bias and racism, to transform the University’s policies and practices, and to accelerate change. “Hollins, Taylor and Lee were asked to lead the initial workshops based on similar work they have done with local school districts and other public institutions,” says Jeanette James, manager of strategic initiatives and projects with the office of Minority Affairs & Diversity. Hollins’ workshop aimed to open a dialogue and expose participants to alternate perspectives regarding bias, history, culture and race. Taylor’s work focused on cognitive bias and dissonance. And Lee tackled cross-cultural communication and microaggressions. “If we aren’t identifying the unconscious biases we bring to work and examining dominant culture’s norms and beliefs, we are not guiding [our students, faculty and staff in ways that help them be effective in their fields,” says Hollins. “We have to learn to interact differently.”

UW employees joined the trainings for a range of reasons. Anastasia Mendoza, ’06, an executive assistant in Marketing & Communications, wanted to support the Race & Equity Initiative. “These dialogues are diffi cult to have, but the workshop creates a safe and comfortable place to talk about issues,” Mendoza says. “Having people from across the UW community share their personal and professional stories advances the conversation. It’s good to hear perspectives from people you may not see on a day-to-day basis.” Because of the demand, the Race & Equity Initiative steering committee is planning to expand the workshops in 2016-17. Participant evaluations from the pilot series will shape the design of the future programs. “We have a responsibility to move these conversations forward,” says Hollins. “And we all have a lot of work to do, no matter our professional role.”