Building a more equitable and prepared workforce is a core endeavor of the O’Brien Center for Career Development and Merrimack College as a whole. We aim to provide programming and initiatives to help enhance students’ awareness around diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as how they can utilize this knowledge and newly gained skill set within the working world. Peter Rojas, Coordinator of Multicultural Initiatives, and his staff paired up with the O’Brien Center for Career Development to do just that.
The team has developed a new initiative at Merrimack: the Diversity Awareness Training. This 3-day, 4-part workshop series takes diversity, equity and inclusion, better known as DEI, to the next level. Merrimack Warriors are able to develop and enhance their skill set to understand how DEI relates to building equity in their world. Skills like diversity awareness and responsiveness, active listening, empathy and professional communication and collaboration are just a few of the competencies that the program addresses. At the completion of the program, participants receive a digital credential, developed with the guidance of the O’Brien Center for Career Development, prominently placed on LinkedIn profiles.
Cintia Khouzami, sophomore double major in human development and human services as well as women’s and gender studies, was one of the first cohort participants. “The training helped me with how to intervene in certain areas and how I can use what I learned to educate other people. Education is the biggest piece in this for people to really understand and know how to be an ally.”
Along with ranging class years, majors, and career path interests, students’ level of knowledge and understanding were also across the board. “[The diversity awareness program] helps provide the language for people worried to talk about these topics,” says Samantha Frey, triple-major in psychology, social justice and women’s and gender studies, Multicultural Initiatives intern, and co-facilitator of the program. “It’s not just about the identities and the definitions, but how those identities are affected in life and how all identities are combined together to put forces on people that they can’t control.”
But this knowledge and tactical ways to intervene reach far beyond students’ time at Merrimack; it’s essential in workplace performance. “Hiring agents are expecting people to be culturally sensitive and ready to work in a diverse workforce,” says Gabi Scheff, Graduate Fellow in Multicultural Initiatives and co-facilitator of the program, earning her master’s in Merrimack’s clinical mental health counseling program. “Having this opportunity to engage with these difficult and maybe unfamiliar concepts under the guise of an academic institution really helps people become more comfortable entering those concepts. When you’re working in a new community or office, you don’t necessarily know everybody else’s background. It helps students take the framework of not making assumptions and letting people tell their own stories in the way that we have them tell their own stories with us [as facilitators].”
Cintia also agrees that this training will help in her own career and future workplace. “I think we can all agree that we want people to feel like they have a space where they can trust people and know they’re welcome. In the workforce, sometimes these things might be overlooked because it’s focused on professionalism. But in reality, our personal life intertwines with work all the time.” When considering her hopeful career ambitions, she adamantly agrees that DEI work is essential in her success as a future school counselor. “I definitely know [the training] will affect the field I go into because if you can’t sympathize, you can’t really help [students/clients]. I hope that if I do work in a school or am a counselor that I can educate kids while helping them to understand these topics and hopefully encourage them to be an activist as well.”
You may be wondering, so what’s next in the frontier of diversity, equity and inclusion education and digital credentialing at Merrimack College? “Everyone’s been talking about it,” Peter explains. “Different offices across campus are wondering how we can incorporate some of these topics into their offices.” Multicultural Initiatives hopes to interweave its teachings into training all across campus, including the tutor training program and on-campus student employment to enhance student awareness and responsiveness to diversity, equity and inclusion within their own perspectives and experiences.
“We have to fill the gaps,” says Peter, and those gaps are the skills students are learning from this digital credentialing program. “I’m not expecting students to be experts, but at the end of the day, we need them to walk down that path, help them think with a broad perspective and set them up for success after Merrimack.”