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Students improv discussions about diversity

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August 17, 2012

As part of this year’s Week of Welcome festivities, Georgia College students discussed diversity issues on campus usingGeorgia College peer educators use improv to discuss difficult diversity issues with freshmen during Week of Welcome activities.Georgia College peer educators use improv to discuss difficult diversity issues with freshmen during Week of Welcome activities.

Twenty-six peer educators held the university’s first diversity training play with freshmen to share strategies for engaging in difficult dialogue about race, religion, age, disability or sex.

“Our growing diversity on campus is a new experience for some incoming students,” said Dr. Karen Berman, chair of the Georgia College Department of Theatre. “This training allows our freshmen to meet their peers and discuss issues of diversity constructively in an open and informative setting.”

Berman and Jennifer Graham, director of the Georgia College Women’s Center, organized the training, which included approximately 1,300 freshmen to discuss solutions to derogatory scenes.

Peer educator Moriah Thomas and colleagues acted out scenes from a Christian and lesbian student having roommate issues to students saying offensive language toward a Jewish, disabled and an African-American student.

“The experience was really about becoming friends and allies for one another,” said Thomas, junior rhetoric major, “which is the strongest foundation for any student group aiming to become part of social change. We’re not asking everyone to change their beliefs but help make the Georgia College climate one that is inclusive, safe and comfortable for conversation.”

After each scene, peer educators formed small discussion groups with freshmen to discuss possible answers to make the situations better.

The diversity training also welcomed Michael Rohd, theatre professor at Northwestern University in Illinois. The nationally known expert and author provided students with engagement strategies for difficult dialogue.

The training is part of Georgia College Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity’s (OIED) yearlong initiative, “Catalyst for Inclusive Excellence: Leading the Transformation.”

The new initiative aims to increase awareness about diverse groups on campus and in the community and address diversity’s significant role in the global world.

Supported by the Office of the President and the President’s Commission on Diversity, OIED promotes diversity and inclusion on campus. It provides training, resources and events to help prevent discriminatory practices based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age, disability, veteran status or any other characteristic.

OIED also works with both the campus and local community to develop and maintain all-embracing partnerships and student programs committed to equal opportunities and treatment.

OIED’s peer educators trained throughout the summer months with diversity resource organization Anti-Defamation League of Atlanta and traveled to New York City’s National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education to learn ways to discuss diversity issues productively in a campus setting.

Michael Wedincamp, peer educator and member of PRIDE Alliance at Georgia College, found the conference useful to develop his communications skills about uncomfortable topics.

“The conference was a great place to connect with different people around the United States and share our interests in diversity,” said Wedincamp, senior political science major. “One of the seminars focused on getting people to participate in conversations based on diversity. The session helped because it has been hard for me as a facilitator to engage people during uncomfortable conversations.”

With continued support from OIED Interim Director Dr. Veronica Womack, EEO and Training Specialist Terry Kessler and Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Bruce Harshbarger, the peer educators will continue to work with groups around campus throughout the academic year to discuss diversity issues.

Visit to learn more about OIED.

ABOUT GEORGIA COLLEGE: Georgia College, the state’s designated Public Liberal Arts University, combines the educational experience expected at esteemed private liberal arts colleges with the affordability of public higher education. Its four colleges – arts and sciences, business, education and health sciences – provide 6,600 undergraduate and graduate students with an exceptional learning environment that extends beyond the classroom, with hands-on involvement with faculty research, community service, study abroad and myriad internships.

Founded in 1889, Georgia College boasts one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation with Corinthian columns fronting red brick buildings and wide open green spaces. Georgia College also offers graduate education at the historic Jefferson building in downtown Macon, at Robins Air Force Base and online.

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