The University was recently honored for excellence in addressing a topic of timely concern on campus: social justice. The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) awarded Residential Life (ResLife) the Connecticut award for Program of the Year for its Social Justice training program.

Stuart Brown, chairperson of the NASPA Connecticut committee that chose the University as this year’s recipient, said that he and committee members were impressed with what he described as “the uniqueness” of the Social Justice training program. He said that most staff training programs address issues of communication and leadership styles.

“Having a social justice theme seemed to provide a more intellectual and academic approach to training,” Brown said.

The format of the program included discussion, reflection, sharing, and activities. It addressed topics including what Koerting described in her letter as “an overview of social justice, the cycle of socialization, dominant/subordinate group dynamics, privilege and power, the action continuum, and liberation from systems of oppression.”

During the training, students explored specific forms of oppression, including racism, religious oppression, sexism and gender systems of oppression, classism, and ableism, which is discrimination against the physically disabled.

Koerting said that the student staff’s response to the program was phenomenal and staff members evaluated all components of their training after completion. Each component received an average evaluation of at least 4.00, on a scale of 1.00-5.00, illustrating that the program was successful in familiarizing student staff with facilitation of conversations about social justice, awareness of social justice resources, and understanding of the protocol for bias and hate incidents.

RA Shivani Kumar ’08, who attended the August training, said that she felt the activities promoted a sense of community and trust among ResLife student staffers.

“If nothing else, I learned how to discuss difficult issues in a way that made everyone involved feel comfortable and willing to participate,” Kumar said.

Kumar participated alongside 98 upperclassmen in various positions, including Head Residents (HRs), Resident Advisors (RAs), House Managers (HMs), and Community Advisors (CAs). Director of Residential Life Fran Koerting nominated the program for the award.

“I was so impressed by the time and effort the Area Coordinators put into developing the program, its creative format and approach, and the student reaction to it,” Koerting said.

In her nomination letter, Koerting gave an overview of the planning process behind the Social Justice program, which began in June with input from student leaders and staff members from various departments. ResLife’s five Area Coordinators, professional staff members who each oversee a group of student residences, then developed programming for the five-day student staff training that took place in August.

Social justice training may soon expand beyond student staff. According to Koerting, the Wesleyan Student Assembly’s Student Affairs Committee received the suggestion that the program be extended to the entire University community.

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