Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

December 12, 2016

Workshops and Trainings at the UW: Answering the call for change

This feature is part of the 2016-2017 report series produced by the Office of the Provost in partnership with the Race and Equity Initiative. Feature articles will be released throughout fall and winter. Themes for the series include examining how the University of Washington is committed to improving equity and access throughout major University systems and processes, and how these can be transformed, with the goal of eliminating institutional racism.

Conversations sparked by the launch of the Race and Equity Initiative in April 2015 found faculty and staff across the three campuses looking for ways to learn more and make positive change. As part of its objective to “confront individual bias and racism,” the initiative stepped up to provide opportunities for personal learning.

A working group was tasked to develop a training program that would provide education and tools around cultural fluency, cross-cultural communications and bias. A pilot launched in spring 2016, and right away the demand exceeded capacity: over 450 staff and faculty participated.

Jeanette James

Jeanette James
Project Manager
Race and Equity Initiative

Now the planning group is incorporating feedback and lessons learned into the next phase of workshops and trainings available to even more faculty and staff in 2017.

“Our goal is to support staff in enacting changes in their own behaviors and in their own units, like developing outreach and hiring practices that use this work, and really be able to use this knowledge to make change wherever they are,” says Jeanette James, Race and Equity Initiative project manager.

Making an impact
“We listened to a lot of students, faculty and staff who expressed a need for more education on these issues,” says James. “We want to be responsive to the needs of people who want to deepen individual learning.”

Student-support units that work most closely with students were offered the pilot program first. The trainings were created in partnership with Professional & Organizational Development (POD), a unit of Human Resources, to tap into their training expertise. This allowed the program to offer more workshops at scale and potentially become integrated into future employee training at the UW.

In total, 24 workshops were held across all three campuses between April and July 2016. They were led by three independent experts in equity, diversity and inclusion: Rosetta Lee, Greg Taylor and Caprice Hollins. The trainers brought experience in working with the education and public sectors on topics such as cross-cultural communication, cognitive dissonance and implicit bias.

Inside the trainings
The trainings were designed to appeal to those who are just entering the conversation while offering everyone, no matter their level of expertise, different opportunities to engage in fresh ways.
Faculty and staff at implicit bias training
“Rosetta Lee’s session on cross cultural communication was excellent,” says Justin Wadland, head of Media and Digital Collections with the UW Tacoma Library. “The training blended together research and scholarly literature, drew on various conceptual models and incorporated her personal experience.”

Participants were introduced to key frameworks, terminology, and concepts in order to evaluate their own biases and engage with honest personal reflection. To help people open up, trainer Caprice Hollins wove personal narratives with history to inspire thoughtful reflection through the lenses of race, class and other factors that shape our perspectives and biases.

“If we aren’t identifying the ideas and unconscious biases we bring from the dominant culture’s norms and beliefs, we are not guiding students in ways that help them be effective in their field,” says Hollins. By the end of the training, faculty and staff reported feeling more confident in being able to recognize implicit bias, an important first step. “We have to begin to interact differently,” says Hollins.

Wadland took that call to action to heart as he reflected on his experiences working with students in the UW Tacoma libraries. “I feel like the training helped me continue to see how, in my own position, I have an opportunity to learn from other people of backgrounds that are not my own,” he says. “The trainings work through misunderstandings and even conflict.”

Everyone should know how their own biases impact the community. We need to answer some big questions together: How do we communicate, how do we break down barriers, how do we work together? We need to learn how to construct our ideas so that they are productive and contribute to a working community.”

Ujima Donalson
Executive Director, Professional & Organizational Development

Looking Ahead
Bias in systems: The planners behind the pilot program are currently developing the next iteration of trainings and resources that will be available beginning January 2017, this time expanding the focus to explore how implicit bias operates in larger systems as well as at the individual level.

“We’ve received requests to focus not just on interpersonal issues, but on understanding institutional and systemic bias as well. So now in this next series we are bringing in trainers who are skilled at addressing the broad institutional issues,” says James.

On-demand resources: The new series will build upon the pilot’s earlier learning objectives by providing a deeper understanding of interpersonal and structural bias and emphasizing a shared language about bias and racism. Plans are also underway to expand the delivery methods to meet demand without being limited to the scheduling and physical constraints of an in-person workshop: videos, brown bag discussions and other accessible online resources will be added to help meet people where they are in their understanding of the issues.

Leading through UW values
Recognizing the impact of individual leaders on institution-wide decisions, UW leaders are pursuing a broad range of trainings to deepen their knowledge at both the individual and structural level and reinforce the values of a diverse, inclusive university. Among those who have attended trainings are the Race and Equity Initiative Steering Committee and facilitators as well as University Advancement leadership. Plans are underway for more leaders to participate in the coming year.

Jeanette James (center) meets with members of the Race & Equity Initiative subcommittee that coordinated workshops.

Jeanette James (center) meets with members of the Race and Equity Initiative subcommittee that coordinated workshops.

Considering the ultimate goals of the trainings, James says, “Individuals can’t change what they don’t know. The goal is to help people take the blinders off and let them see that they do have the power to make change. Then the question becomes, how do we take what we know as leaders within organizations and make change that’s impactful across our three campuses?”

As the winter quarter trainings gear up, the workshop and training organizers hope the series will empower even more staff and faculty. Whether by affecting outreach and hiring practices, reviewing policy, understanding our diverse student body or resolving interpersonal issues, they hope people can use this knowledge to make positive change wherever they are.

To find out about upcoming trainings and additional learning resources, visit the Leadership workshops page, which will be updated with winter/spring trainings in January. To learn more about how to coordinate a leadership workshop for your unit, contact