Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Faculty Involvement
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Connections
Intercultural Learning for Inclusive Excellence
Why Allen and Joan Bildner and the Bildner Family Foundation Funded a Statewide Diversity Initiative
Learning to Listen as We Lead
Institutional Models That Cultivate Comprehensive Change
Curricular Transformation
Where Worlds Converge
Curricular Transformation through Collaborative Teaching
Intercultural Learning in First-Year Seminars
Designing Intercultural and Cross-cultural Spaces
Enhancing Collaborative Leadership of Faculty and Staff
Faculty-Driven Curricular Change
Diversity as Shared Practice
Dialogue Groups at Princeton University Library
Faculty Involvement
Epistles, Posters, and Pizza
Forging Campus-Community Connections
"Beyond Food"
Cross-cultural by Design
Student Experience
Something to Declare
Putting Student Voices in Public Spaces
Café Bergen
Institutional Leadership and Committment
Assessing Diversity Attitudes in First-Year Students
Infusing Cultural Competency into Health Professions Education

Dialogue Groups at Princeton University Library

By Janet Dickerson, vice president for campus life, Lila Fredenburg, human resources librarian, and Luisa R. Paster, staff development librarian, all at Princeton University

Princeton University

Princeton University

With much of the diversity conversation and research in academia centered on the experience of students and faculty and efforts to recruit and retain them, it is easy to overlook the large body of staff members who experience the institution as a workplace.

Princeton University is the largest private employer in Mercer County, with almost six thousand employees and a total student/faculty population of around 7,300. The library has a staff of approximately 125 professional librarians and administrative and technical staff, along with about 225 support staff. Due to the full range of scholarly and non-scholarly functions performed in a research library and the need for wide subject matter expertise and foreign language skills, most large university libraries attract a very diverse staff. In Princeton’s case, diversity is enhanced by the campus’s proximity to large metropolitan areas, its reputation for good benefits and job security, and the drawing power of its international atmosphere.

Starting the Dialogue

In an effort to make the staff more cohesive, in 2002 the library staff development office instituted programming under the title MOSAICS—Appreciating Our Diversity. The stated goal of this effort was “to help us understand and appreciate each other better by making us more sensitive to the backgrounds and cultures of our colleagues.” Bridging the traditional library barriers between professional and support staff, improving teamwork within and among library departments, and addressing some existing communication challenges were other project goals.

The initial offerings included a keynote address and several workshops and seminars. The most stimulating and well-attended event was a presentation by the Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble combining short theatrical performances on diversity-related topics with facilitated group discussion. Positive response, along with requests for further training of this kind, led us to invite the group back for a second program targeted at supervisors. It became clear that guided discussion could engage staff in a meaningful sharing of ideas and actually alter people’s outlook in significant ways. We were eager to continue.

At the same time, the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life was supporting student-run dialogue groups called “Sustained Dialogue” and, under the aegis of the Bildner New Jersey Campus Diversity Initiative, was extending the concept of dialogue to faculty and staff with a “Dialogue@Princeton” program. The Library piggybacked on this effort and produced “Dialogue@theLibrary.” With help from the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life, we trained twenty facilitators, six of whom volunteered to serve as co-facilitators for three dialogue groups in the spring of 2003. Each group of ten staff members met weekly for six weeks at brown bag lunches. Discussion topics, chosen by the facilitators and the group members, centered mainly on personal experiences. Facilitators shared ideas and discussion questions among themselves and provided support for one another. The feedback from both facilitators and participants was positive, and one group continued to meet occasionally for lunch for many months afterward.

Feedback from this experience indicated that a sharper focus was needed for the dialogue, and so, with the intention of breaking down barriers between professional and support staff, we chose the topic of socioeconomic differences. Cris Cullinan, training and development administrator at University of Oregon, was invited to campus for three days to help us set up more dialogue groups.

After additional training of facilitators, we formed three more dialogue groups of about ten people who met six times in spring 2004 to explore the definitions and indicators of class. These groups also discussed how the way we think about class plays out in the university and in the library workplace. Feedback confirmed the benefit of focusing on one area of diversity and exploring it in depth. As a follow-up, staff were invited to view and discuss four videos on related socioeconomic topics.

In the spring of 2005, we debuted a new topic and continued the discussion format using the three-part video Race: The Power of an Illusion. We scheduled hour-long viewings followed by half-hour discussions, each one facilitated by two different library staff members. As a result of the enthusiasm and dedication of the organizing committee of library support staff, some staff who had not previously participated in dialogue groups began to attend these lunches.

Lessons Learned

In three years of diversity programming in the library, we have learned that it is necessary to offer a variety of events and cover a variety of topics to keep the discussion fresh and appealing. Staff involvement in planning and organizing the events and dialogue groups ensures that topics are relevant and that word spreads about the value of the programs. The active involvement and participation of management helps break down barriers of hierarchy and demonstrates the importance of the project. Dialogue groups need a structure based on specific topics and carefully chosen discussion questions with enough time to go beyond superficial conversation and reap the real benefits of engagement. To create a safe and open setting for serious dialogue to occur, facilitators need considerable training and support. Once a core group of facilitators is available, however, they can mentor and train new facilitators.

Diversity programming at the library coincided with successful recruiting efforts, resulting in greater diversity among the professional staff. The dialogue programs provided the foundation for a workplace where diversity issues can be discussed among diverse staff members.

The impact of the structured staff dialogues is difficult to assess. Approximately two-thirds of the library staff have had the opportunity to explore and discuss together questions of diversity, whether through attendance at the Cornell Interactive Theatre presentations, the Dialogue@theLibrary groups, or the video discussions. MOSAICS has become a known “brand” for staff events and staff now offer suggestions for additional topics and activities—both signs of increased awareness. Although it is inevitable that hurtful behavior will occasionally erupt in a very diverse workplace, we feel now that library staff and management at all levels are better equipped to respond appropriately. Dialogue@theLibrary, like a diverse democracy, is an ongoing work in progress.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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