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Certificate program helps foster inclusive campus environment

More than 1,000 UGA faculty and staff have taken it upon themselves to learn how to make the university a more welcoming and inclusive place.

The first 18 recipients of the UGA Diversity and Inclusion Certificate program, a partnership between the Office of Institutional Diversity, Training and Career Development and other diversity-related offices and programs at UGA, were recognized in 2012, and since then the program has continued to grow exponentially. A total of 300 certificates have been handed out.

Shonte Wallace, coordinator of faculty and staff development in OID, oversees the program and is working on further adding to the line up of available courses. To receive a certificate, employees must attend a core diversity class and five electives focusing on different areas of UGA's diverse campus. 

"Since we have the strong interest in the certificate, I want to start making sure that the people who are here are taking something that matters away ...from the program, in which they can implement into their work here at UGA," Wallace said. 

To ensure that, Wallace and Kelly Slaton, OID coordinator of assessment and diversity initiatives, are working on a review of the program to see how it can be improved upon. Despite a total of 14 certificate courses being offered this quarter, Wallace wants to see even more, along with some classes focusing on topics like socioeconomics and religious diversity. 

"We need to definitely talk about the religious diversity because religion is so central to who people are," she said. "We don't want people to have to give up their religion or be afraid to be who they are in their faith. We want people to feel included and to be engaged with each other despite differences." 

Wallace said it's imperative that the conversation on diversity be continued even after staff and faculty fulfill the requirements. 

"I don't want it to be where people are taking this just to have something to put on their resume," she said. "We need to know that the students see a difference, that your colleagues and administrators notice the difference."

One of the ways she hopes to keep the conversation going is to start a "mini conference" where graduates return to discuss how they're integrating their lessons into their work. 

Another areas Wallace wants to focus on is having more faculty members earn a certificate. Wallace is currently hosting focus groups with faculty members to see what they want out of the Diversity and Inclusion Certificate program and how she can improve it to meet their needs. One option she's looking into is creating professional learning communities where faculty come together in small groups and work out problems relating to diversity. 

"I want to help faculty integrate diversity in a way that is not pushing it on the students, but that it just becomes a part of the curriculum," she said, "and I think that collaboration will make problem solving for that more thorough because you're more creative when you have a variety of knowledge, skills, and experiences"

Wallace aims to make UGA an exemplar in diversity training. She also wants to look into making the program more academic and well-respected 

"I want it to be a respected program that matters, not just something to do," she said. "I'm hoping the Diversity and Inclusion Certificate program makes people advocates for change, advocates for diversity, advocates for inclusion," she said. "I don't want people to sit back and say 'I did it for me,' we have to do it for a better UGA.

"It has to become something that's not just I do diversity, but I am diversity," she also said.