DiversityEdu, the Right Idea on the Wrong Platform

I got the warning email on Sunday night. Admittedly, it was as a follow-up to a few other emails I had received the week before, which I had simply let sink to the bottom of my inbox.

A somewhat threatening email, though vague—what exactly kind of “dean’s list” were they going to put me on? Were they really going to call me in and punish me, along with the hundreds of other students who also hadn’t checked their emails diligently? But I knew better than to let this one sit.

DiversityEdu, a requirement for all undergraduate students this year, was waiting for me on Canvas in all of its trifold glory: a pre-survey, a module, and a post-survey. Canvas told me it would take approximately 60 minutes. I was told by both friends and roommates that their time had exceeded the estimate. I also heard many whisperings around campus with conspiracies and strategies to “work around it” and complete it in half the time—clearly not what the administration was going for, but tempting, nonetheless. It’s already midterm season, and an hour seems just too long for the already over-involved population of Boston College.  

The content of DiversityEdu and the message that it is proclaiming is undoubtedly important, especially for our campus. Only approximately 33% of our student body identifies as AHANA+, we are hardly ADA-compatible in certain dorms around campus, and many students find themselves in groups of friends that look exactly like themselves. As an institution, BC is working to diversify its student body as well as its faculty more. You may recall a push from the BC community (at least 500 students and faculty members, in fact) requesting more faculty members of color. At the beginning of the current school year, the number of AHANA faculty reached 19%, which is more than Northeastern or BU could say for their 2017-2018 school year.

BC is working to become more aware about these issues that face their student body so pressingly and consistently. With mandatory Bystander Intervention, multiple diversity talks at Freshman Orientation, and an increase of LGBTQ+ resources, it appears that our university is at least making the effort to answer student and societal demands. I’m, therefore, quite unsure why they chose to provide DiversityEdu—a valuable, well-made resource—online, in a way that allowed for (even encouraged) countless distractions instead of demanding students’ undivided attention.

From students to faculty, there were incredible voices in the module providing extremely insightful opinions and strategies. The information was applicable and interesting. However, the credible and authentic voices, as well as the self-led activities, were almost certainly dodged by the majority of the student body. People joked about how fast they could get it done, how mindlessly it could be done (before going out, even), and whether they could get away without doing it at all. I myself completed it with half-consciousness as I wrote an essay on another window.

Imagine how different this experience could have been if, like Bystander Intervention, they required us to be physically present for this training. Imagine if they had invited speakers or played parts of these videos at our mandatory building meetings. There are so many other ways this could have been presented to the student body to hold us accountable and responsive.

In these different mediums, without giving students any opportunities to pull up a second window and mute their screens, students would be forcibly engaged. Real, live speakers, in fact, are simply more interesting than a voice on a screen. In the same way that I find myself more engaged with my live professor rather than his recording on a screen, and students demonstrate higher achievement with print textbooks rather than digital, we also would have learned a lot more from a real DiversityEdu session versus the online module. Without distractions, without other screens and responsibilities that allowed us to continually put it off, students would be more attentive and responsive, retaining far more from a human being rather than an online production that only required attention every few minutes.

Diversity is a relevant and important issue not only on college campuses, but nationwide. It is something college students should be discussing at all levels and in all disciplines, as we are the ones who are going to be leaders and influencers in many different pockets of the world. We are the ones who will set the example and the precedent down the road. Equipping us with the knowledge and the skills to do that is crucial, but DiversityEdu ended up as an easy-to-ignore, almost mindless box to check as opposed to a genuinely helpful and impactful piece of material.

Although technology may in the future restrict students from opening other applications while they complete the module, there is no replacement for a live presentation of the information communicated to us through Canvas. Treating DiversityEdu as a crucial part of student formation will lead it off computers and into Robsham, or Devlin 008, or wherever the administration deems is a suitable environment for this kind of discussion. Allowing students to complete four other things simultaneously leads to minimal retention and minimal change on our campus. While I stand by the idea, the execution was simply not up to par and, frankly, unrealistic. We can do better.  

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor