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Students Help Each Other Explore Diversity, Inclusion in A&S Certificate Program

By Richard LeComte

Last year, the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Kentucky started bringing together a group of people from several walks of life to learn about diversity.

The broadness of the new program – an online Graduate Certificate in Diversity and Inclusion --  goes a long way to practice what it preaches.

“I think that's really one of the ideas behind the certificate: to bring people together from different backgrounds and in different careers and studies and professions,” said M. Cristina Alcalde, associate dean of Inclusion and Internationalization, who founded the program. “Given what's happening at the University right now and nationally, I think this is a particularly relevant certificate to have.”

The program, now in its second year, is made up of four eight-week, three-credit courses. The core course -- Perspectives on Diversity and Inclusion – has 21 current students. Alcalde said the program rose from a Provost’s Office call for more online programming; the subject turns out to be a great fit for many different professions.

“We thought, ‘Why don't we offer this to the broader community and not just UK?” she said. “In general, the courses have to do with global engagement and understanding, diverse identities and intercultural communication, and health and culture.”

In addition to the core course, students may select three electives, including African American Lives; Understanding Latinx Cultures; Heath, Illness, and Disabilities; and Intercultural Communication for Professionals – taught by a broad range of College faculty members. The program draws from the wide expertise of College faculty and highlights some of the most pressing issues of the day.

“For example, we have another course right now that looks at perspectives on gender identities and sexual identities,” Alcalde said. “Faculty members come from African American and Africana studies, anthropology, gender and women’s studies, Hispanic studies, history, modern and classical languages, literatures and cultures and sociology in the College of Arts &  Sciences. The certificate also includes electives from other colleges.”

Alcalde’s material fit well with the academic objectives of Tiana Thé, who took the core class this semester and is planning to add the certificate to her master’s degree in geography.

My master’s research is looking at how we can build an educational foundation for environmental sustainability based on social justice and equity,” said Thé, who is communications coordinator in the Office of the President at UK. “Part of that is diversity, equity and inclusion. I was looking at the course catalog, and Dr. Alcalde’s course popped up. It seemed like it fit so perfectly, and it seems it would fit for all majors and all research. It laid the foundation for how to think about certain things.

The diversity of the program itself has drawn students from a wide range of UK disciplines as well as outside professionals.

“I think one of the great things about the certificate is that it attracts people from all over the University,” she said. “We have folks from nursing, engineering, and design as well as students from outside the University.”

Because the classes are taught asynchronously, students get a chance to read, contemplate and learn from their peers’ comments on bulletin board discussions.

“All the conversations felt very intentional,” Thé said. “I did learn a lot from them. Some of them were UK employees, and they would talk about their specific units on campus. We also had someone from UPS and someone who worked as a nurse talking about the different ways COVID-19 had impacted their work with respect to this class. I ended up learning a lot from my classmates. I could read what they said two or three times and really understand it.”

Part of the essential makeup of these classes are the discussions – students get to probe their own experiences and feelings when learning about how others might respond differently in varying situations. Alcalde stresses that the courses have many applications to real-world situations.

“The core course is very much a hands-on experience,” Alcalde said. “We talk about how to apply the core concepts having to do with engaging with diversity, equity and inclusion to their fields and what’s happening at the University right now and nationally.”

In addition to the content of the classes, students are learning from each other, which in some sense is the epitome of diversity and inclusion. As a woman of color, Thé has found discussions of microaggressions and strategies that work – and don’t work – for diversifying a place of business helpful. And Alcalde strives to make the certificate as inclusive as possible.

“We have someone from nursing speaking to someone from engineering speaking to someone from education, and all we're all trying to apply the same concepts together,” Alcalde said. “These are very important discussions to have right now, and this certificate is particularly relevant in today’s world.”