Office of Equity and Inclusion Launches Learning Community Initiative

Anna Branch
Anna Branch speaks at the launch of the Learning Community

The Office of Equity and Inclusion has launched the Learning Community initiative, encouraging the campus community to participate in small (10-15 participants) discussion groups based on the book, “What if I Say the Wrong Thing?: 25 Habits for Culturally Effective People” by Vernā Myers.

Groups will start meeting after Oct. 18, and a learning community celebration dinner will be held in December for all participants.

The book provides readers with short, accessible tips on how to be, and how to help others become, more culturally effective, to improve communication across differences and to foster positive relationships.

At the Oct. 3 Learning Community launch lunch, Anna Branch, associate chancellor for equity and inclusion, encouraged the 45 attendees to form diverse reading groups of students, faculty and staff across campus to increase cultural awareness and respect for differences.

Similar to the Campus Climate Conversations, which brought people from different parts of campus together to discuss challenges and imagine solutions, the learning community offers participants a new way to connect with others and grow.

Branch shared with attendees at the lunch, feedback from the Climate Conversations. “People really appreciated talking with others who they didn’t interact with regularly. It wasn’t about their job or status, but about being a part of the campus community and contributing to the goals of our community,” she said.

The goal of the learning community is to create spaces to develop skills and unpack challenges to respectful community by enabling participants to practice thoughtful interaction across difference.

“We come from diverse backgrounds and experiences that lead to varying levels of comfort and ability to interact thoughtfully across difference,” Branch told attendees at the lunch, “participants in the book discussion groups should be able to talk with each other under the premise that we may not always get it completely right.” The goal is to, “increase confidence and reduce stress in interactions that can keep participants from engaging with others who don’t share their background or lead to miscommunication when they do.”

Ten to 15 book discussion groups will be launched across campus this fall, and new groups will launch in the spring. Learning community members will have access to an online forum to interact as they read, sharing resources, as well as posing and answering questions. The Office of Equity and Inclusion will provide central support to help groups get off the ground, a discussion guide for each meeting and will moderate groups where needed.

Any member of the campus community interested in joining a group is welcome. To learn how to sign up, visit the Learning Community initiative website.