The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences Plan for Working Across Difference

Visual representation of the Working Across Difference Initiative

by Amelie Hyams

The Diversity Community of Practice (DCoP) is a network of individuals from across academic and non-academic units on the Twin Cities campus who are working together to share ideas, information, examples, and take action towards improving equity and diversity at the University of Minnesota. Recently the DCoP’s Communications Subcommittee has begun conducting Appreciative Inquiries, inviting our member units to share examples from their ongoing efforts on equity and diversity including improving campus climate at the U. Our plan is to share a wide range of ideas across UMN departments and units, that can serve as inspiration for everyone working on these issues since “Diversity is Everyone’s Everyday Work.”


When looking for a process to highlight for a DCoP Appreciative Inquiry, it didn’t take long to find the Working Across Differences Initiative (WADI). We look for a program, event, initiative or other idea that is working well towards improving campus climate. WADI stands out.

What is WADI? It’s a program led by the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) to improve their students’ understanding and appreciation of different cultural frames.

The program works on the premise that intercultural competency is not assured through simple encounters with difference. Individuals can increase their competency in stages, through incorporating learning experiences around difference, within and outside of the classroom.

CFANS wants all students to graduate with the ability to recognize and work across differences as a core competency. And so, beginning in 2013, participation in WADI has been part of the college experience for all CFANS undergrad students.

How does WADI work? At the beginning of the process, students took the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) assessment. This provides a baseline. IDI measures an individual’s level of cultural competency along a range of five stages, moving from denial to minimization of difference, to adaptation, [meaning here] the ability to view the world from another cultural perspective. (See a report on this process)

Representation of the IDI model

The first-year students who took the IDI in 2013 will retake the assessment in 2017. The expectation is that in these 4 years their scores will have moved forward along the continuum.

There are already indications that this class is significantly ahead of the seniors who graduated in 2013 in their intercultural competence.  The majority (83%), of these students, reported they have a better understanding of what it means to be inter-culturally competent.

Q & A with Karl Lorenz, DCoP member and Director of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, who responded to our DCoP Appreciative Inquiry questions about WADI.

Why did CFANS feel the need to develop WADI?

There is little doubt that now, more than ever, our graduates need to have the skill to engage effectively in the context of difference: different values, cultural communities, life experiences and historical contingencies with both a local and global mindset.

We recognized that, while we had good investment in meeting the diversity and inclusion needs of faculty and staff in the college through various initiatives, we didn’t have anything comparable for our student population.

We decided rather than approach this through workshops and trainings, we would be more successful by identifying a systemic approach and integrate diversity and inclusion more directly into the curriculum. Our goal is to build the content where the students are at, rather than asking them to come to us. Moreover, we wanted something more than a once-and-done class or training.

Why does the IDI give a score for participant’s perception of their competence, in addition to their actual competency rating?

The IDI offers two scores: a raw response score (the subjects self-perceived orientation) and a weighted score (developmental orientation) that results from the application of an algorithm derived from response consistency to various questions.

The perceived score offers individuals insight into their assumed understanding of intercultural competence (where we imagine ourselves functioning), versus the stage we actually operate at, relative to our intercultural competence.

The difference between the actual and self-perceived scores highlights an opportunity gap and the awareness to be intentional in closing the gap in estimating our actual practice.

How has WADI been received by students, faculty and leadership?

Students, in general, have responded quite positively. They view intercultural competence as a helpful personal and professional skill. Though, as you might expect, the interest and acceptance of a deepened focus on diversity themes and intercultural topics depends on where the students are in their development. Those in the earlier orientations of denial and polarization sometimes don’t see the relevance.

CFANS faculty – In some areas there was significant faculty interest, and in other areas greater faculty resistance to incorporating diversity content into their classes.

Some faculty mentioned that they didn’t know how (or want the responsibility) to teach diversity content. They were concerned they could lose control of the class over difficult topics that they had limited knowledge of themselves.

We decided to pilot an effort with faculty who had an active interest in participating and demonstrate how this can be done in the classroom. That led to the Teaching Across Difference (TAD) faculty cohort model. [TAD offers syllabus review and is facilitated by an experienced faculty member].

Leadership in the college has been supportive. And they have provided funding critical to develop faculty interest in engaging this initiative.

What elements of the program do you feel are particularly successful?

Faculty are beginning to realize that this work holds the potential for publishable scholarship and conference presentations. We are seeing independent action on the part of some departments to review and adapt their curriculum to meet the goals of the Working Across Difference Initiative.

Reaching all freshman during orientation to the major classes is important. It has set the expectation of students to see more of this content in other courses in the major.

What advice would you offer other units who might be interested in adopting a similar program?

  • You need college leadership involvement – an expectation that diversity matters and that effort in that direction will be rewarded.
  • A valid and reliable measurement tool is essential – be prepared to defend it.
  • Make the business and educational case for the initiative. Demonstrate how this strengthens/furthers student learning, student career success, reputation of the college, faculty interest and innovation.
  • Have a strategy in place for how to unfold the initiative and a roadmap to desired outcomes. But leave sufficient flexibility to allow for a culture of practice to emerge, based on faculty interest.
  • Provide participating faculty with time, support and reward for their involvement. Their involvement is key.
  • Anticipate where there is interest and where there is a potential for resistance. Understand your collegiate culture and recognize that some resistance is inevitable.

Our thanks to Karl Lorenz and CFANS for providing this model for our DCoP Appreciative Inquiry.


A longer version of this article containing all details from the digital discussion of WADI – can be found on the DCoP website under Unit Profiles – Appreciative Inquiries here:

For questions regarding this article and DCoP Appreciative Inquiries, contact Amelie Hyams ( and for questions regarding WADI, contact Karl Lorenz (

Seeing Beyond the Words: An Interview with Derek Jennings

A person, Derek Jennings, is smiling and looking into the camera.

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

According to Aristotle, “The soul never thinks without a picture.” So perhaps the image-based research Dr. Derek Jennings does could be defined as a way to ‘discover what the soul is thinking’…

Jennings is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Pharmaceutical Sciences on the Duluth Campus and the Outreach Director for Research for Indigenous Community Health (RICH). He has a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction (with an emphasis in Communications and Technology), a degree in Philosophical and Social Foundations of Education, with a minor in Film/Photography. He has also been a freelance photographer who has taught photography for ten years at a summer arts institute.

He has become very skilled in using the qualitative research methodology called PhotoVoice. PhotoVoice allows Jennings to combine his wide areas of knowledge and skill to develop health research projects with American Indian communities.

PhotoVoice enables people to tell their own stories, expressing their thoughts, ideas, culture, and values through photographic representations. It works like this: the community or the researcher picks a topic to explore. The participants make photographs that explore and represent the topic and tell their own story through images. The information is deep and rich, containing multiple layers of meaning.

The participants then talk about what they chose to photograph. It’s an important part of the narrative to understand why these images where created, what they mean to the participant. Jennings knows, “Meaning that is attached by the person who took the picture, is the most powerful.” So he listens carefully to their descriptions and analyzes the story they provide.

“I always talk about photographs as being just a file marker of abstract thoughts.” Jennings explains. “If you handed me your family’s photo album, I might not be able to know what’s going on with the pictures. You would have to sit there and tell me what you remember… ‘Oh, that was 2008, my grandmother’s birthday . . . We were celebrating my graduation on this day with my family’ – and you would tell me all these stories. But they really are just symbols that are file markers for your brain to attach meaning to.”

He tells about a group of American Indian women who have become known for running trail races and exercising. At first the group was 3-4 women who were wanting to get healthier. They started walking. Soon others joined. What began with a just few women walking grew into a group of 20–30, running marathons. And they got healthier. “A couple of them lost around 100 pounds.”

Jennings explains what drew him to this group for a PhotoVoice project. “I like to find those things that are working, attach research to them to figure out why and how they are working.” He then shares that information back to the community. The run-group is ‘a thing that’s working’.

The women have created a community of support for themselves: from the reservation, from family and from the run-group (friends). How? How were the women using social media to meet up to run? Most importantly, Jennings asked, “How do you make a community within a community, that will be supportive?”

He provided the women with cameras for about a week, to document their experiences and show what it means to them to run and to live healthier lives. “And so they photographed and told stories about their individual lives.”

“A lot of them had compelling stories about past relationships, their families, wanting to be good ancestors for their children.” He learned that when they run, the women talk about their ancestors. Some who have been adopted out are trying to learn about their culture and rebuild their roots to their ancestors. “They talk about trauma, they talk about things that have happened and how it has affected their lives. So it’s kind of a therapy situation also.”

“These women have done it [changed their lives] and I’m just trying to figure out how they did it and how it worked. With their encouragement, I was able to.”

Currently Jennings is working on a project called Food Medicine. “It’s a model about food and behavior, history and connection to culture.” He is drawn to this type of research because, “It’s image-based so there is so much information, not just focusing on one little area.”

Collaborative research is attractive to Jennings because it allows for multiple approaches from multiple perspectives. He prefers to explore issues this way. He works with American Indian communities, learning from collective wisdom. He also enjoys working collaboratively at RICH, as part of a larger team of researchers with differing expertise, “bringing many people around the same table, to solve health problems.”

Dr. Michelle Johnson-Jennings is Jennings’ wife and one of his collaborators at RICH. Both conduct research around tribal health issues, particularly obesity research, and both have said that combining their different approaches enhances the success of their projects.

Dr. Derek Jennings brings deep understanding and expertise of qualitative methods, especially image-based research. With a background in clinical psychology, Dr. Johnson-Jennings applies more quantitative approaches. Together they are able to examine a problem more fully than either approach can offer alone.

“This is the way of the future. I think this is how the academy will be ready to make changes in society – these more collaborative approaches to research.”

[Header Image Credit: Brett Groehler, University of Minnesota Duluth]

ICYMI: ODGE Returns to the Grad School

Yellow and Purple Tulips

Vice President Katrice Albert sent this statement to various groups throughout the U of M community in September.

Effective October 1, 2016, the Office for Diversity in Graduate Education (ODGE) will return to the Graduate School.

As an innovator in graduate and professional education since 1973, ODGE was moved to the Office for Equity and Diversity (OED) in 2009 as part of the restructuring exercise of the Graduate School. While supporting ODGE, OED has perpetually been assessing not only how to promote and sustain inclusive excellence in graduate and professional education at our university, but also how to be national leaders in these efforts.

An external review of ODGE earlier this year confirmed our assessment and recommended that a diversity office in the Graduate School represents the best way forward. After consulting with students and graduate education faculty and administrative stakeholders, we determined that this change will help us increase diversity in the graduate and professional population and better serve our students in culturally specific and responsive ways. This model is also consistent with the organizational structures of the majority of our graduate school peers in the Big Ten.

Realigning ODGE in the Graduate School will allow for a more seamless graduate and professional student experience, from recruitment to retention to graduation. OED and the Graduate School will continue to work closely together on issues related to diversity in graduate and professional education, including increased investments in staffing and programs such as the Diversity of Views and Experiences (DOVE) Fellowship.

On The Trail From Hope to Healing: An Interview with Michelle Johnson-Jennings

A person, Dr. Michelle Johnson-Jennings, stands against a brick wall, with her arms crossed and looks into the camera.

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

Dr. Michelle Johnson-Jennings is a trained clinical psychologist, a health researcher and advocate for tribal communities and a member of the Choctaw Nation. Johnson-Jennings has been with the College of Pharmacy on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus since 2011 and has been director of the Research for Indigenous Community Health (RICH) Center since 2013.

An expert on cultural differences between westernized medicine and indigenous populations, Johnson-Jennings first became interested in the psychology and cultural differences around pain management, during her residency. “There are a lot of cultural barriers around what pain means to the patient, as opposed to the health care provider.”

She found patients would sometimes tell the doctor their pain level was ‘fine’ only to claim later that their pain was severe. Often they had been managing the pain when asked, so they didn’t mention it. But to the physician it would seem like they were lying, so they might not be offered appropriate pain medications.

There was clearly a need for her skills and understanding in this area. Many indigenous people suffer from addictions. Johnson-Jennings was aware that addictions are related to trauma. “Genetic research has shown that if you have a grandparent that was subjected to some kind of trauma, that future generations may experience higher levels of addiction and other illnesses.”

Obesity is one of these illnesses. “We have such a high rate of childhood obesity, as well as adult obesity. And our rates are rising, actually, while other races are stabilizing or lowering.” Chronic diseases among indigenous people have also increased. However a positive environment can lower the risks of chronic disease.

Along with mentor and friend, Dr. Karina Walters with the University of Washington, Johnson -Jennings spent about 3 years developing a pilot project with interventions to correct some of these health issues. They learned from the Chief of the Choctaw Nation, the health director, and other tribal leaders that the community is in a state of crisis due to high rates of diabetes, obesity and other health concerns.

“For the first time in years, especially among the Choctaw Nation, they are very concerned because they think parents will outlive their children.”

Johnson-Jennings and Walters worked with the Choctaw leaders who encouraged them to look to the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears was a very traumatic event for the Choctaw Nation, when they were removed from their homelands through a forced march, losing thousands of lives in the journey. “Each year the Choctaw Nation has health walks and remembers those ancestors who made the walk for us.”

The intervention program they designed combines therapy and interview sessions among tribal women and is centered on the walk. They’re asked to remember what their ancestors went through, focusing on the love the ancestors had for these future generations and their vision for health and wellness. This helps them to reframe the trauma of the walk, to see the sacrifices the ancestors made for them to be well.

Why focus on women? “We decided to focus on women because the Choctaw Nation is matrilineal. Traditionally the women control the household.” Johnson-Jennings and Walters began with women and are adding children and men as interest increases.

Women are also cultural leaders in the tribal community and their excitement about health has motivated others. Tribal leadership has begun taking the walks “in mini versions” to get back in touch with the ancestral vision of health and well-being.

The curriculum for the leaders is a little different than the women experience. Jennings explains it includes more historical information, especially about the Choctaw leaders at the time, what they said and what was recorded about them.

“The Choctaw moved with the hope that they could be free and remain Choctaw, as well as that future generations would be healthy.” Johnson-Jennings has heard reports that the leaders could see “some of the resilience that was there, is still present in the community.”

The success of this project has produced several spinoffs, not only among members of the Choctaw Nation, but other tribes as well. The United Houma Nation is related to the Choctaw Nation. They heard about the work being done with the Choctaw women and were interested in doing a similar intervention. They contacted Johnson-Jennings and Walters about a year ago.

The United Houma Nation is facing their own health crisis through the loss of a great many acres of land. The oil company has damaged the ecosystem, killing trees, making the land unusable for growing vegetables, and creating high rates of contamination that has increased health issues among the people.

When she walked with the Choctaw women, Johnson-Jennings had already created the intervention model she would use. However for the walk with the Houma Nation, she has been working with them to determine their framework for health, after concluding the walk. The leaders wanted to do something that focused not just on obesity and addiction but that also created excitement about overall health.

So Jennings and Walters chose a historical migration route and walked with the women of the Houma Nation. Along the way they talked about health and healthier eating. The women were encouraged to eat fresh fruit and vegetables and to eliminate soda, not just during the journey, but ongoing. They were also asked to continue meeting so they can support each other and help encourage their communities.

When facing these issues, tribal communities already know what works well. “Our ancestors were highly skilled scientists and they know so much about the natural environment . . . [even] at a genetic level where they would tell stories about how trauma can affect subsequent generations. But how do we access that information? How do we talk about that and reinvigorate our community to be working towards health?” Johnson-Jennings hopes her work can help by including a different perspective.

What actually happens on these walks? Johnson-Jennings describes how she accompanies the women, walking along with them and sharing the experience over a 10-day wilderness experience. “People are very tired. We’re camping out during the summer, so it’s very hot and [there are] lot’s of bugs.” In order to gather data she interviews participants before and after, but not during the walk.

Instead, during the walk they think about different themes. For the Houma Nation they focused on mindfulness, fulfilling their ancestor’s vision for their people and the tribe’s vision for future generations. Johnson-Jennings asks them to think about, “How do you want to be perceived as an ancestor?”

Community engaged research is typically slow. It can take a long time to achieve publication. The tribal community owns the data so the researcher must receive approval in order to submit anything for publication. This further slows the process and can add other challenges. Historically the tribal communities have had a lot of distrust about research due to ethical violations around research procedures.

Sensitive to these concerns, Johnson-Jennings takes the time to engage more fully in the tribal community. “It’s a lifestyle approach that you are constantly thinking not only about the research, but about the partnership and the relationship and maintaining that relationship.”

It’s encouraging that the process of doing this research has had immediate rewards for the community. Jennings describes that some of the women involved had never tried fresh fruits and vegetables before. “Because of their isolation and lack of access, that wasn’t part of their life.” Johnson-Jennings has seen them not only change their own habits but they’ve shared this in the community.

“The women are excited to tell their stories, and discussing what keeps them motivated to stay healthy, motivates them further.” Johnson-Jennings adds, “Tribal leadership is also taking notice. Health interventions are seen as exciting and thinking about policy changes could support that.”

What is Johnson-Jennings looking forward to next? “I would definitely like to look more into food addiction.” She hopes to learn if addiction to food is truly an addiction or an indicator of addictive tendencies, and how it’s related to trauma.

Her research around food addiction intersects with the work being done by UMN Professor Derek Jennings with the College of Pharmacy. Professor Derek Jennings is the Community Outreach Director for RICH, Johnson-Jennings’ husband, and her research collaborator.

“He is more of a qualitative researcher”, says Johnson-Jennings, “very skilled in doing Photo Voice visual stories, and working with communities.” She feels they work well together, he using a qualitative method approach while she designs health interventions and more quantitative surveys.

“It’s his job [with RICH] to be in the community and work on tribal relationships, discussing the research more broadly, which is part of his health education background. He is aware of what it’s like to do research from an indigenous perspective.”
(We will explore Professor Derek Jennings research more fully in an upcoming publication.)

Johnson-Jennings hopes her work will help break down a few barriers within the academy around community engaged research. “Research often centers on disease and what’s not working. But the lesson we learned is that we can focus on the positive and prevention and still obtain the grants we need.”

“I feel really honored to work with my tribal community, that they would partner with myself and our team conducting this research. I have a lot of respect for them and a shared hope that as we work together we will increase our health and be well.”

[Header Image Credit: Derek Jennings, Ph.D.]


What We Mean By Diversity

People walking throughout the University of Minnesota Twin Cities mall area

In the Office for Equity and Diversity, we are often asked what we mean when we say “diversity.” Understanding that there are many definitions and understandings of the word, we often take a few minutes to explain the understanding that informs our work:

It is our responsibility as an institution—as part of our commitment to creating a welcoming and affirming climate—to serve and support the following individuals and groups at the University of Minnesota:

  • American Indians and other indigenous populations
  • People of color, including underrepresented groups and new immigrant populations
  • People with both apparent and non-apparent disabilities
  • People who identify as women
  • People of various gender and sexual identities and expressions
  • First-generation students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

We also address issues of access and climate for individuals who might encounter barriers based on their religious expression, age, national origin, ethnicity, or veteran status. Furthermore, we recognize the importance of working with people who claim more than one of the above identities.

Learn more in the University of Minnesota Equity and Diversity Vision Framework (PDF) »