Harvey Mudd College’s Office of Institutional Diversity (OID) hosted the first session of this year’s Building Bridges program on Feb. 4 in the form of a cultural competency seminar with an emphasis on racial diversity. Overseen by Jennifer Rodil, OID’s graduate intern, the seminar was designed to equip students with the skills necessary to address racial issues as agents of change.
There were eleven self-selected attendees, primarily Mudd students and a few Scripps students. During the session, students examined the day-to-day importance of how identity is established, defined social justice terminology (e.g. “agent,” “ally,” “oppressed”), and discussed racially-charged scenarios from the ABC television show, What Would You Do? The session was typical of one of the OID’s courses, which often include talks, discussions, and interactive activities in which participants share and listen to stories.
OID offers five concurrent programs every semester. The Spring 2016 syllabus includes Building Bridges, Identity Intersections, Social Justice in STEM, Pop-Up Allyship Training, ‘Chew On This!,’ and Friday movie screenings in the office of films such as Straight Outta Compton and Suffragette.
This semester marks Rodil’s fifth as the overseer of Building Bridges. She designed the program with the help of HMC Associate Dean of Diversity Sumi Pendakur. Rodil describes Building Bridges as “proactive” education.
“The campus community can learn about our social justice issues, challenge trends, prior to them coming up as hot topics,” Rodil said. “Our idea is to provide these proactive programs where people are consistently learning, and going through it as something that’s actually enjoyable in their day. Our goal in [Building Bridges] is for it to not only be educational, but also for people to look forward to coming.”
Cesar Orellana HM ’17, who attended the seminar, agreed that OID’s educational programs are valuable to the campus, particularly for faculty.
“A lot of the faculty here are very disconnected from what’s happening in the student body … I think having something similar to [Building Bridges] where they can talk about these issues and become more aware of what’s happening on campus can help faculty better connect with their students, which can be really important,” Orellana said.
OID’s staff consists of Sumi Pendakur, Jen Rodil, and Angelica Ibarra, HMC’s Assistant Dean of Institutional Diversity.
“In order for us to be able to learn,” Ibarra said, “we need to talk about some sensitive subjects, like privilege.”
Ibarra also stressed the importance of a mutual trust and communication between students, faculty, and staff on campus to support a productive dialogue. “Without that trust, and without that relationship, then it’s impossible to move forward,” she said.
When asked about the recent significance of the term “safe space,” Ibarra declared that OID’s space is indeed “safe.”
“I think the way that we see the concept of a safe space is to have a space to be able to have a conversation, with the opportunity to make a mistake, and somebody understanding that, oh, you know, we can make mistakes in these areas,” Ibarra said.
Both Rodil and Ibarra expressed hope for OID to be a space that can facilitate student activism and peer-to-peer education on campus. Student input, in particular, was cited as a key driving factor behind OID’s programming and mission.
“Our office is very notorious for and committed to feedback and evaluation,” Rodil said. “When you fill out those evaluations that we give you at the end of our programs, we have a certain regimen on how we input that data, use the data and then produce the results—and then how we respond to the results.”
The evolutionary nature of OID’s programming means it will provide the campus with the resources the community needs most. Through Building Bridges, Rodil said, every participant has emerged transformed.
“I one-hundred percent commit to this statement,” Rodil said. “Every individual that has gone through this program has grown immensely … I’ve seen people who never talk begin to challenge themselves to speak up, and the people that usually share really be mindful of how they allocate their energy in sharing.”
Orellana, whose roommate previously participated in Building Bridges, had heard similar things, which ultimately inspired him to sign up for the program.
Orellana hopes to emerge from Building Bridges with more confidence and literacy in social justice conversations. “I feel like I’ve always kind of struggled with having these kinds of conversations because I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to respond, and some things, I just don’t know what they mean,” he said. “I hope that this program will help me learn a lot of the stuff that I don’t know.”
Orellana also voiced his appreciation for Building Bridges’ small size, which he felt made speaking, or simply having a presence, much easier than in large discussions where a quiet voice can get lost.
Isabell Lee HM ’16 graduated the Building Bridges program and went on to create a community for asexual-identifying people on campus. Building Bridges “gave me a time to explore my own identity, to figure out what facets of my identity were most important to me, and also showed me a lot about visibility and education,” Lee said. “Because a lot of the trouble that people face comes from ignorance.”