A freshman diversity workshop at Drake University intended to “raise awareness about issues like racism and sexism” ended up having the opposite effect, leaving students “uncomfortable” and even “traumatized.”
According to The Times-Delphic, the university contracted with the organization High Impact Training for its “You. Me. We.” program — which purports to “expose the often-unintentional ugliness of prejudice, setting the stage for a lively discussion of diversity.”
But Associate Provost for Campus Equity and Inclusion Jennifer Harvey noted in an August 26 email that, despite being “thoroughly vetted,” High Impact Training’s skit format was too “aggressive” and a “huge problem.”
“A sense of belonging for students of color—whose well-being matters deeply to me and other members of the team who planned Welcome Week—was instead thrown into jeopardy,” Harvey (pictured) said.
One of the issues was workshop trainers staying “in character” even after their skits were completed. Although it was made clear at the onset this would be the case (and says so on the group’s website), not all students were aware of it during (post-skit) question-and-answer sessions.
One student said “I do understand that [the trainers] were in character, but the way that they went about answering some of these questions was kind of just blatantly rude.” Another said he “understood what they were attempting to do, but it was offensive.”
[Freshman Ryan] Sherman said many first-year students were already uncomfortable and on edge after the skits, and those feelings only increased during the Q&A portion of the event.
“Giving a microphone to the students didn’t really do anything. Because everybody was so riled up, it quickly became a shouting match from across the auditorium between a lot of different people at once,” Sherman said. “That room quickly became filled with hate and division, much quicker than I’ve ever seen a room filled before.”
In response to students’ feedback, Harvey held a listening session with first-years on Saturday to talk about the workshop sessions and the harm that was caused.
“It would be impossible for me to sort of overstate how much grief I have about that, because I know the harm is real,” Harvey said. “And I also know it sets back many things we have done to really grow meaningful DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] work on this campus.” …
“We are just as responsible for the harm that was caused and we intend to continue to be accountable for that. And we understand that intent and impact are not the same thing, that impact is what matters in this case,” Harvey said. “On behalf of my office, I’m sorry, because my office was a co-sponsor.
Harvey, a professor of religion and author of “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in Racially Unjust America,” said in her email that any student negatively “impacted” by the training should contact the Drake counseling center.
In the past Harvey has opined that raising children with a “colorblind” philosophy is “based on th[e] idea that there’s something wrong with difference” and “something wrong or bad with color.” In 2017 she penned a New York Times op-ed in which she noted her daughter had asked why, if George Washington owned slaves, do Americans still revere him. “Good question,” Harvey replied.
IMAGES: CLS Digital Arts/Shutterstock.com; Drake University screencap