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.”

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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.

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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: https://diversity.umn.edu/dcop.

For questions regarding this article and DCoP Appreciative Inquiries, contact Amelie Hyams (hyams003@umn.edu) and for questions regarding WADI, contact Karl Lorenz (klorenz@umn.edu).

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2015 Nibi Manoomin Symposium

Stands of wild rice on Kettle Lake, Fon du Lac

Oshki-mikanensan Ji-wiidanokindiyang Weweni Niigaan Akeyan (New Pathways for a Shared Future)

Join us September 28-29 for this fourth biennial symposium that brings together tribal members and University personnel to share information, learn from each other about ways to protect water and wild rice for future generations and meet our obligations to all our relatives. All are invited to attend.

The symposium is co-hosted by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and University of Minnesota Office for Equity and Diversity and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Learn more about the symposium »

Download the flyer (PDF) »

[Photo credit: Elizabeth Hoover]