Student senate to vote on mandatory intercultural training for new faculty at GVSU

GVL / Sara Carte - Grand Valley faculty come together for the UAS meeting in the DeVos Campus on Friday, Mar. 25, 2016.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte – Grand Valley faculty come together for the UAS meeting in the DeVos Campus on Friday, Mar. 25, 2016.

Jess Hodge

It isn’t a secret that the majority of people at Grand Valley State University are white. In fact, 83 percent of students and 81 percent of faculty and staff identify as caucasian. While the university is working on expanding its diversity, the current makeup of race poses difficulties for faculty and staff to be educated about students of color and other minority groups.

GVSU’s student senate is trying to find a solution to this problem. Senator Cameron Saghaiepour brought a resolution to the senate body during the March 31 general assembly.

His resolution is to “support the establishment of a comprehensive educational seminar, led by the University Academic Senate, for incoming and returning faculty, on the topic of race in hopes to achieve a better awareness among faculty on how to understand and be considerate of race in the classroom.”

Saghaiepour drafted this resolution as an “affirmation of student support” if this seminar were to happen. He said UAS already has something like this in the works, and this would simply show that student senate supports the idea.

He encouraged senators who may not be effected by this to still think of it as an important topic to talk about and act on.

“For those of you who don’t necessarily understand the nature of this resolution, it might require you to empathize with those in this resolution that it directly effects,” Saghaiepour said. “While your perception might be limited in understanding issues like this, please think outside the box.”

The majority of senators supported this resolution with one stipulation: focus on educating for “intercultural confidence” instead of focusing just on race. This includes people with learning disabilities, the LGBTQ community, race and other students whose background may put them on an uncomfortable learning situation.

According to Saghaiepour, if a faculty or staff member isn’t well-educated on how to deal with different types of people from different backgrounds, it will be difficult for all parties involved to properly teach, learn and advise others.

“I think you (should) talk about other minority groups on campus like religious communities, LGBTQ community, not just our minority race population,” Senator Michael Sullivan said. “I would support this resolution if it encompassed those factors as well.”

Other senators questioned the logistics of it, curious to how often this would happen and if it would be required for all staff members at GVSU.

Vice president of the educational affairs committee, Maria Beelen, helped clarify things, noting it could only be recommended to existing staff and faculty.

“We can not make it mandatory for existing faculty,” she said. “We can make it mandatory for incoming faculty because they have to go through this new faculty orientation and that is when it would take place. We are encouraging existing faculty to go to this, but we cannot make it mandatory.”

Overall, senators were pleased with the idea and expressed their support toward the idea of an educational seminar, seeing it as something that was necessary for students and all faculty and staff.

“I think it’s something that is taking the right step for this university,” Senator Andrew Hereza said. “This is a movement in the right direction and I think it’s always good to open a dialogue.”

Student senate will vote on the resolution during their next general assembly meeting at 4:30 p.m. on April 7 in the Pere Marquette Room in the Kirkhof Center.