New task force on campus looks to explore and expand diversity

By Joycelyn Fish

Campus Life Editor

Walking around the Viterbo campus, diversity may not be the first thing someone thinks about or notices. However, the Diversity Task Force’s main goal is to explore and expand diversity across campus.

“We have a mission to prepare our students to interface more successfully with the diverse society,” Deb Daehn Zellmer , chair of the Diversity Task Force and chair of the sociology, social work, and criminal justice departments, said. “We are trying to be proactive rather than reactive.”

Next semester, the group will be focusing on learning about individuals within diverse populations on campus.

“We are going to be inviting students who represent diverse populations to meet with and share with us their experiences on campus so that we can have a better understanding of what our strengths and our challenges are and what we need to do to make this a more welcoming campus,” Daehn Zellmer explained.

The Diversity Task Force plans on setting up sessions for focused conversations with African-American, Hispanic, Asian and international students. The task force also hopes to meet with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer community in a safe, open environment recognizing confidentiality and privacy issues. Any students interested in being part of a panel are welcome to send an email to ddzellmer@viterbo.edu.

“Primarily we’re looking at ways to engage and educate faculty and students to support and promote diversity,” Daehn Zellmer said.

Established during the 2012 spring semester, the organization was called under the direction of Barb Gayle, academic vice president. Composed of three students and 12 faculty and staff members, the group formed as a result of increased diversity on campus and wanting to continually increase diversity.

Although the Diversity Task Force has only been on campus for a couple of semesters, it has already set forth goals and developed a clear purpose.

The group has also created a definition for diversity according to Daehn Zellmer. “At Viterbo University, diversity is best embodied through the Franciscan values of hospitality and respect for human dignity. Therefore we see diversity as including but not limited to age, culture, ethnicity, gender, learning style, mental health, physical abilities, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.”

Three subcommittees focus on different aspects of developing openness and understanding of diversity on campus. The faculty and staff training committee focus on preparing all members on campus, especially those teaching the diversity seminars. Collecting raw numbers of existing data to get a base line to look back at in the future is the task of the data collection committee. In addition, the campus initiative collaboration committee is working towards connecting with other organizations across campus who are focusing on diversity.

“The intent is really to focus on creating a learning and working environment that would be respectful and supportive of different groups,” Daehn Zellmer explained.

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