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SPEA’s ‘diversity class’ audits Indianapolis community organizations

By Rich Schneider


Managing diversity increases performance and productivity.

Students studying diversity at IUPUI last semester advanced from earning grades to awarding them.

Working in teams, students conducted diversity audits of community organizations that agreed to have their diversity management efforts examined by members of the class.

After gaining insights into how diversity is managed, the students offered this advice: organizations with a diversity program sometimes have a false sense of security that they are doing all that is needed. As one student in the class commented, “Diversity management really takes time and effort, and many don’t want to go the extra mile.”

The class, offered during the fall semester, was the first such class presented by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI, said Debra Mesch, an associate professor who taught the class.

With more women, more people of color and more people of different ethnic backgrounds joining the workforce, Jim Perry, associate dean of SPEA at IUPUI, believed it was important to add the diversity class to the roster of classes SPEA offers in Indianapolis, she added.

One goal of the class, Mesch said, was for students to develop an awareness of themselves. “In the workforce, you have to have a good understanding of yourself and what is important to you about your own culture and background in order to make decisions about what to give up to fit into the workplace and what things are so important to you that you can’t change them.”

The class also examined the bottom line, Mesch continued. “It is important to manage diversity not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because the bottom line is that managing diversity well increases performance and productivity.”

Skills needed to manage diversity were studied, including how to work with people who come from different cultures that may have different patterns of communication and different ways of dealing with conflict, she said.

The diversity audits were a valuable experience, Mesch said, because they involved a range of organizations that managed diversity in different ways. Some organizations were content to simply comply with equal employment opportunity regulations, while others believed diversity to be a critical part of their mission and strategic plan.

Karen Whitney, vice chancellor for student life and diversity, was pleased with the addition of the diversity class at IUPUI. “I’m thrilled. I hope every department, every degree program would consider what SPEA is doing.”

Nursing and certain other professional programs have programs dealing with cultural competency because their students need to understand the culture of the clients they work with, Whitney noted.

“Diversity and cultural competency are definitely siblings of thought: to be successful at whatever I want to do, I have to have an understanding about people who are different than me,” she said.

“What I find interesting about this class is that you give students the diversity lens and have them put it on, and they look around the world, and they are seeing things they wouldn’t have seen before,” Whitney said. “I think the most exciting thing about the class is how quickly that can happen and how important it becomes to the student.”

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Publication date: January 31, 2003
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