Social work students present diversity research to president

(Source: Nick Berg)
(Source: Nick Berg) Six WSU students presented their research paper, titled “Wildcat Nation: Open to Diversity?”, to President Charles Wight this morning.

Conducting research — check. Presenting said research at symposium — check. Presenting research to President Charles Wight — check. Publishing research in scientific journal — almost check.

Six students, one of which has already graduated from Weber State University, spent their 2013 spring semester in a hybrid social work course that was half research and half statistics. After conducting and concluding their research on diversity at WSU last spring, the next step was to present their data to Wight and Adrienne Andrews, the special assistant to the president for diversity.

Bright and early this morning, these students, along with their mentor and professor Kerry Kennedy, finally got to present their findings.

Their study, entitled “Wildcat Nation: Open to Diversity?”, concluded that although students at WSU are open to diversity, most have little experience with it. Also, students who identify with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have less experience with diversity and are less open to it. This was 45 percent of the study participants.

Kennedy said the reason for the research was to ask, “What’s next? How do we make this bigger? How do we bring this to the students and say this is really important?” She also said they will present the research  to the General Education Committee at a later date.

Nick Berg, a social work major in the group, said their data and findings will be published in the Utah Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters in April of 2014, one year after their project was completed.

“It feels like a great accomplishment,” Berg said. “. . . it will hopefully be very useful to either other researchers in relation to diversity and students experiences with it, as well as the university itself.”

The students used the platform of Survey Monkey through the WSU portal and social media, and received a response from 306 students total. The survey was open for two weeks due to the time constraint of the hybrid class.

“Diversity is an integral part of higher education,” said Berg during the presentation. “While the results show that students at WSU are open to diversity, they lack experience with it.”

After the students concluded their presentation, Wight agreed that generally speaking, WSU students have limited experience with diversity.

“There’s one diversity class required by general education, but some majors have additional diversity requirements,” said Wight, asking how the university should strengthen diversity requirements for all students.

Valerie Larkin, one of the student presenters, suggested a required reading or class option that would help students “to get out of their comfort zone of culture, and to be able to see a culture that is completely different from them and be able to understand and sympathize with them.”

Kennedy suggested students taking diversity courses also be required to attend lectures, convocations or diversity events on campus.

“I feel like Weber State offers so many opportunities,” Kennedy said. “To implement something, like you need to see two speakers or read a book or something, would deepen someone’s experience.”

She also said faculty who teach the required diversity courses could bring in their own speakers to expose students in particular disciplines to diversity.

“To bring in the dance person that traveled the world, or has had all these amazing experiences, it might encourage people to say, ‘I want to bring in my person. I want my discipline to be represented in this diversity (course),’ and open it up even further at Weber State,” Kennedy said.

The WSU Center for Diversity and Unity sponsors hundreds of events and speakers every year. According to its website, the center is committed to providing access, building community and educating each other about diversity issues.

“We are committed to the pursuit of learning from and with a diverse group that sometimes reflects who we are and sometimes does not in order to affirm the dignity of all people,” the website states.

Although the research done by Larkin, Berg, Lindsey Bonney, Kaitlyn Oliver, Brett Bartruss and Heidee Miller is completed, Berg said conducting this project has allowed him a greater insight into diversity itself, and he thinks it will benefit others at WSU.

“I think it could help other students, not only at Weber State, but at other colleges and universities, especially when looking for research that has been done pertaining to the openness and experiences of diversity and college students,” said Berg, noting that, if anything, having the administration aware of the research and utilizing it will benefit students.