February 6, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 36°F


First-Year Seminars at IC include diversity workshops in cirriculum

This fall, many of Ithaca College’s First-Year Seminars added Diversity and Inclusion Workshops to their curricula during the common noon-hour meetings.

Eighteen voluntary staff members are facilitating 55 of the 90 First-Year Seminars, said Shaianne Osterreich, former Ithaca Seminar program coordinator, associate professor and chair for the Department of Economics and associate director of the Integrative Core Curriculum.

As of Aug. 15, Michael Buck, interim associate dean for the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance, has been serving as the Ithaca Seminar program coordinator. Buck deferred to Osterreich regarding information about the workshops as he only assumed the position this summer.

Annette Levine, associate professor and Latin American studies coordinator, said the workshop instructors are paired with “First-Year Seminar pilot professors.” The pilot professors are those seminar professors who signed up to take the workshop, which is why only 55 of the 90 seminars are participating, Osterreich said. Some workshop instructors, such as Emily Hess, field experience coordinator for the Department of Education, contacted their pilot professors to include material from their syllabus, but not all instructors have done so, Hess said.

All workshops receive a “what’s next” resource sheet, which provides available courses, offices, events and readings to learn more about diversity and inclusion, Osterreich said. Also, she said instructors emphasize concepts such as privilege and microaggressions.

The workshop instructors were given latitude to create their own platform and content for the workshops. Therefore, not much else is known about the specifics of what these workshops will entail.

Hess said that, as a workshop instructor, she went to one training event led by four primary organizers: Osterreich; Sean Eversley Bradwell, director of programs and outreach in the Division of Educational Affairs; Derek Adams, assistant professor in the Department of English; and Belisa Gonzalez, associate professor and director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity.

Hess said in that primary training, organizers described their expectations for the workshops through a concept called “umbrella goals.” This consists of three goals: “to provide an introduction to language and concepts used on campus toward inclusive spaces, to begin to identify aspects of an inclusive environment and to identify action steps toward an inclusive environment.”

Levine said no application or certification was required for signing up to be an instructor, though she knows many instructors who have knowledge within the realm of diversity. For example, Levine said she has a background in cultural language and diversity.

Levine said her hope is that students come to realize preconceptions that they may not be conscious of by undergoing a process of self-reflection.

The primary faculty and workshop instructors said the 50-minute period is something they are very aware of.

“We are conscious of the limitations of a 50-minute workshop, but the First-Year Seminars are a good place to do it because all the freshman students come together,” Osterreich said.

Also, Hess said, the workshops are a way to begin integrating topics such as inclusion into the academic environment.

“We have to start somewhere,” she said. “It would be irresponsible to say ‘we can’t do it perfectly, so we won’t do it at all.’”

Conversely, freshman Kelsey Shaffer, who took a workshop, said she felt the time restriction prevented intelligent conversation about topics that needed to be covered.

“The professor was very nice and wanted us to truthfully share a time when we felt excluded,” she said. “However, I don’t think we dug deep enough into our discussion to really hit on the core problems minorities face. We needed more time because it just felt like we brushed the surface of topics.”

Questions surrounding diversity on campuses nationwide were brought to the forefront by student protests last year, and Osterreich said these demonstrations catalyzed their pre-existing motivations to hold these workshops.

“The mobilization created an environment to do this work and made it more obvious that we should do the work,” she said.

Falyn Stempler can be reached at fstempler@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @falstempler