This year I was asked (last-minute) to apply for the Diversity for Equity grant offered by West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission and received funds (hooray!). The grant must be used to promote diversity and equity (hence the clever title). The decision was made to split the funding in half and use it during both the Fall ’13 and Spring ’14 semesters. We decided to host two ‘weeks’ for our students: Cultural Diversity Week from October 28 – 30, 2013 and Literacy Week from April 21 – 24, 2014.
I have to say, Cultural Diversity Week rocked! We had outstanding student, faculty and staff participation, and the news even came.
Our most successful events were:
1. The Diversity Tree: The Diversity Tree was created out of an old, square shredder box, cardboard tubes from rolls of fabric donated by an upholstery shop, brown craft paper, and lots of adhesive spray. The ‘leaves’ were stock paper cut-outs of hands. I walked around campus and asked students, faculty, and staff to trace their hands because no two hands are the same, and my student worker diligently cut all 250 hands out. We attached quotes about culture and diversity to the base of the tree and had everyone on campus fill out a hand with their name, their culture or heritage, and their favorite tradition, and then they attached it to the tree with tape. We ordered T-Shirts sporting our logo and the phrase “Celebrate Diversity” which were given out to those who put a hand on the tree. All T-shirts were handed out on the first day and almost all hands were used. The tree is still in our lobby.
2. The Snake and the Pot (Belly dancer and Drummer): This group performed Tuesday afternoon for a crowd of more than 100 students, faculty, and staff. Each dance and musical piece was introduced with a brief history and story. The belly dancer not only danced, but also performed a Peruvian love song on her violin. At the end of the performance they invited the participants to come forward and learn a few moves; also very popular! One of our local news stations came to campus to film the performers and perform an interview (in front of the Diversity Tree!).
3. West Virginia Cloggers: One of our faculty members is a member of this clogging group, and they did a performance in our foyer Monday afternoon. Over 100 people attended this event. Each dance was preceded by its history and evolution of the steps. The ages of the members ranged from 4 – 70!
Our other events were:
4. Night showing of “The Secret Life of Bees”: Our book club chose this as their first book (by Sue Monk Kidd, excellent read) of the year and helped with the set-up for our movie night. We purchased the rights and showed the film Tuesday evening in our foyer from 6:30 -8 and served soda, candy, and popcorn. This event was not heavily attended (about 20 people) but did spark discussion both during and after the film, so it was definitely a success.
5. Take a Culture, Leave a Culture: Wednesday was a dual event day! Our Student Services held the annual Boo Bash and Blood Drive, and we set up a culture swap table. Everyone was encouraged to bring an item representing their culture or heritage, leave it at the table, and take something they found interesting. All sorts of items were swapped: key chains, books, pins, stories, trinkets.
Our one unsuccessful event was:
6. Cultural Scavenger Hunt: Four faculty and staff members and I created clues about our culture/heritage, or a culture we find interesting. All clues were printed on a sheet of paper with the thought that students could search between classes or in their free time without having to find one clue to get to the next, and the clue creators set up stations with stickers (to add to the students’ papers signifying they made it) and tokens (bookmarks, candy, etc.). Unfortunately, no students participated! Next year we may ask instructors to make the scavenger hunt extra credit and/or use a more interactive/virtual approach with pictures to be uploaded to a Facebook page. You live and you learn!
What I’ll do differently next time:
- Create a committee. I planned and organized Cultural Diversity Week mostly by myself with the help of our Director of Student Services James McDougle and my Student Worker Kristia Seabolt.
- Leave procrastination to the dogs. Time was my enemy. This was the first big event I have ever organized, and I definitely underestimated the time I needed to cut checks, order T-shirts, call performance groups, etc.
- Advertise within classes more. We have found at our institution that the more instructors encourage their students to attend events, the more students show up. Also, giving extra credit for movie nights or scavenger hunts has been a positive factor in the past, so if we can get our faculty on board with that, attendance will hopefully improve.
Literacy Week may not be until April 2014, but our committee has already been created, ideas have been brainstormed, and several people and performers have been contacted; it’s on a roll! Look for my post about it in a few months!