New program seeks to promote discussion and diversity

a group of students and faculty sit in a circle, talking

By Rachel Berry

Students sit in a circle of desks, looking towards those in the front of the room, not teachers, but co-facilitators. The co-facilitators ask questions about their identities, and students raise their hands when something applies to them. Questions as simple as if they are from Ohio or if they live on campus turn into if they like going to sporting events or plan to attend graduate school. These challenge students to reconsider biases, mindsets, and long-held beliefs.

Then students turn to smaller groups to reflect on the experience. Although the questions are relatively simple, this exercise sets the students up for the types of things they will be doing for the rest of the semester—exploring their identities and discussing their experiences.

The Voices of Discovery program began this semester as a trial program. Students can choose a three-credit-hour sprint course or co-curricular programs, which supplement material in other university courses. These co-curricular courses are sponsored by certain professors who will give students credit in another course for completing Voices of Discovery.

The program aims to facilitate intergroup dialogue between people of different backgrounds and identities and intragroup dialogue among people who share some aspect of identity.

After the Center for American and World Cultures (CAWC) underwent a program review a few years ago, one of the recommendations was to create a course centered around facilitating conversations to promote diversity. Instead of bringing in speakers and having these discussions a few times a year when an event occurred, they wanted something more sustainable that would be more likely to create habits and lifestyle changes in the way students see and interact with those who are different from them.

“I believe this is one of the few programs or efforts that actually helps people to change the way they think about other people that are different from them, and so once you change people’s mindsets, then you are able to change their actions,” said Tarah Trueblood, CAWC director and founder of the Voices of Discovery program at Miami.

Groups center around a theme such as gender, race and ethnicity, international and U.S. citizenship, and religious, spiritual, and secular identity. Students are selected in an effort to create diverse groups and to avoid having a majority of any type of identity.

The course seeks to provide a space for respectful dialogue and to teach students how to have conversations with those who might have differing opinions. Instead of trying to debate, students are taught to listen and to respect others’ experiences.

“Before this I had a little bit of teaching experience, and one thing that I was seeing was that students were excited to have these conversations, but they didn’t really know how to have them, and every time they engaged in discussion, they thought it was all about debate,” said Tony McKoy, one of the co-facilitators. “I wanted to provide a space where people can talk, be honest with each other, but in a way that’s more of a dialogue rather than an argument. I believe that students have this awesome power to teach each other and learn from one another, so any way that I can promote that is great.”

The course goes through four stages. It seeks to create an safe environment and prompts students to explore their own social identities. Then they will examine how oppression is set into culture and consider how this oppression and privilege play out in the world. Lastly, students discuss how to dismantle society’s oppressive structures.

The full program will begin in fall 2019 after the trial this spring. Trueblood hopes that within a few years, they will be able to expand to have 500 students in the co-curricular program each year.

“We do need to be able to talk across differences,” Assistant Provost of Global Initiatives Cheryl D. Young said. “It’s important for our students to learn this as they go out into the world, not just being on our campus, but you’re going to go out into the world and work with teams of people who are different from you have different perspectives, different beliefs, and this will help you facilitate discussions with your colleagues out in the world.”

Take the Voices of Discovery Class

Registration is now open for the fall 2019 3-credit-hour course. 

Learn more