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Build Diversity Certification Program

1,200 skill-builders improving cultural competencies in diversity program

Kris Gallagher enrolled in the university's diversity certificate program (BUILD) in 2016 after spending time seriously considering the issues that produced the Black Lives Matter movement and the treatment of immigrants.

Gallagher, an associate editor in Advancement Communications, writes for DePaul's alumni publications. "I realized I need to know more about how to talk with and write for people from different backgrounds in a way that would be more inclusive and more sensitive to their concerns," she explains.

That's what BUILD was designed to do: boost multicultural competencies, understand differences, be inclusive, leverage diversity, strengthen DePaul's leadership capacity on multicultural topics and develop methods to demonstrate mastery of these concepts. These skills empower faculty and staff to create a more comfortable and welcoming campus atmosphere.

The program reflects DePaul's long-standing commitment to diversity, a core value expressed in Vision 2018 and the last several strategic plans. BUILD helps faculty and staff ensure they respect the dignity of each individual. BUILD also highlights the strength of a diverse campus community that now includes four generations of employees of various genders and citizenship statuses, races, religions, incomes, and abilities, among other factors.

Nesreen Akhtarkhavari, associate professor and director of Arabic Studies, consults on culture and diversity issues at many organizations and corporations. Her instincts tell her that these values are threatened. Faculty and staff are resisting their erosion by building skills to better understand and put into practice the nuances of diversity.

Vision 2018

"There is more urgency now. Perhaps the presidential election surprised many of us," Akhtarkhavari surmises, and consequently, people have a new urge to examine their values, reach out and create connections with others. "I sense that in the BUILD classes, in conversations with my colleagues and in the other spaces I work in."

Akhtarkhavari completed Level 1 and 2 of BUILD as a member of the first graduating class, became a presenter in the program and serves on the BUILD Advisory Board. She believes people want to create connections with others because they are increasingly recognizing that many people see difference as a weakness.

Yet in BUILD, she says, "We are seeing more people who are self-motivated, who ask 'what can I do for myself to engage in this dialogue?' It's step one to activism."

Growing participation in BUILD is proving her theory. Since its launch in 2013, 51 faculty and staff members have earned Level 1 certificates, while 31 have earned certificates for Level 2, which requires development and delivery of a project related to diversity. Currently, 246 people are pursuing certification and over 1,200 have taken at least one workshop.

Gallagher will receive her Level 1 BUILD certificate later this month at the President's Diversity Council annual reception. "It has been a very powerful experience for me. I learned better ways to express myself and overcome my hesitation in broaching sensitive topics with people different from me because I've been fearful of saying something stupid," she admits. "One of the great things about BUILD is that everyone is working on improving their interpersonal relationships and the ways they think about, work with and support people from diverse groups."

Elizabeth Ortiz, vice president of Institutional Diversity and Equity indicates BUILD is gaining momentum, and both faculty and staff participation has increased.

"The DePaul community sees the importance of developing cultural competencies to better understand and serve our students, and also sees BUILD as a tool to assist them in maximizing the working relationships with their colleagues. Our hope is the long-term effect of this program will contribute to a more inclusive DePaul," she says.

Gallagher's experience is evidence that BUILD is working. A long-time resident of Oak Park, she has friends of different backgrounds and ethnicities, yet was hesitant to raise issues of race with them. "Through the program, I met people who agreed to talk about race and be patient while we learned," she says. Beyond that, an African-American friend told her she was "woke," slang for being aware.

"I was doubting my ability to really see what is going on, being unhappy about how I have been blind to so many things," she explains. "Having someone tell me that I wasn't blind anymore made me feel really good. I know I will get better at this."