On the first day of my intergroup dialogue seminar last year, I sat in a circle with around 15 students that I had never met before of mixed race and heritage.
Each of them surprised me. Every week, they shared their stories of family and festivity, of intolerance and of privilege. All UCLA students should be exposed to these stories.
One program that provides these opportunities is the UCLA Intergroup Relations Program, a branch of the Bruin Resource Center that provides seminars and other academic opportunities for students to learn from each other and to promote intergroup interaction and understanding.
The university should consider working with the Intergroup Relations Program to develop a mandatory workshop for all incoming students about dialogue and social identity, hosted either through New Student Orientation or through the Office of Residential Life.
By providing new students with several of these workshops in their first months at UCLA, the university would emphasize the importance of diversity and create an environment of mutual understanding from the get-go.
The first workshop would be held at orientation and be composed of fellow incoming freshman or transfers. The same group would be required to meet several times through the quarter to check in and discuss their unfolding experiences at UCLA as they relate to their identity and community.
UCLA remains the only UC campus without a general education requirement related to diversity, a gap that we should work to fill in innovative ways.
Tiffani Garnett, the Intergroup Relations Programs coordinator, said a major goal of the program is to create allies among different identity groups and to teach students how to advocate for one another.
Several resources already exist – put on by students and administrators alike – that try to engage students in a conversation about identity on campus.
A student group within the Intergroup Relations Program, called the Alliance through Intergroup Dialogue, hosts hour-long workshops about communication styles and social identity for anyone who wants to participate, said Gianna Sen-Gupta, a fourth-year philosophy student and a member of the group.
The Office of Student Affairs has also made active efforts to further these kinds of programs for faculty and students. For example, the UCLA First Year Experience program offers a freshman workshop series that introduces concepts of diversity and discusses the impact of language.
However, these sorts of programs have limited reach.
According to Sharon Chia Claros, the resident director for Delta Terrace, resident assistants who helped stage two Alliance through Intergroup Dialogue workshops on the Hill this fall were only able to reach 35 students total.
Currently, New Student Orientation provides an early introduction for students to these issues. It hosts a “University Community” panel and a 45-minute group discussion about diversity and student experiences. While this program is useful in that it reaches most students, it does not provide them with the kind of long-term tools or understanding a series of workshops would create.
A multi-part dialogue would provide the follow-up needed for students to create lasting relationships and advocacy goals.
All of these efforts and programs by university offices to address the need for diversity education are steps forward, but they do not provide the kind of consistency that would create a significant impact with students.
Moreover, the need for new, sustained programming in this vein is evident.
Garnett said the UCLA Diverse Learning Environments Survey has shown that in general, students feel that campus is diverse, and that they have positive experiences.
“(But) when we look at the degree to which students feel comfortable engaging and addressing disparaging remarks or taking action, you see a change in the numbers,” Garnett said.
Expanding early exposure to issues of campus climate and community would give students the tangible tools and the confidence to face these issues head on.
Should UCLA require new students to attend a workshop series on dialogue and diversity, I hope others would find themselves in a position similar to mine last spring: at first, sitting in a circle with strangers, and weeks later, among a group of allies and advocates.