Institute pushes multiculturalism with internships

by Andrew Donohue

While many internships involve brewing coffee and making copies, two University-sponsored internship programs ask students to investigate their personal views of diversity.
The Diversity Institute for Student Development and Educational Training is running the internships this spring. Through role playing, group discussions and speakers, the programs are intended to knock down walls of oppression and cultivate participants’ skills for interacting in a multicultural world.
“Our focus is to give individuals the tools to begin to build an authentic community on this large world we call the University by creating awareness and sensitivity to multicultural diversity,” said Nehrwr Abdul-Wahid, the institute’s program associate. Abdul-Wahid got his start in the program as a student intern three and a half years ago.
The institute, housed in the Office of the Associate Vice President for Minority Affairs and Diversity, is in its seventh year of existence. It began Diversity Connections, a biannual internship, five years ago.
Each fall the institute receives applications for its winter and spring internships. Program officials typically receive about 30 applications for each quarter’s internship, about half of which are accepted.
“I try to put together 16 extremely different people,” Abdul-Wahid said. Each student brings a different aspect of diversity to the internship, no matter how much diversity they might think they lack, he said.
After the selections are made, the internship is structured around a three-hour weekly meeting. Each meeting is focused around one of what the institute calls “the tentacles of human oppression.” They include but are not restricted to: national origin, sexual orientation, disability, race, age, color, gender and religion.
During the meetings, the students explore their own and one another’s opinions on diversity and oppression. Interns are encouraged to keep a journal to help them prepare for the weekly meeting. The discussions are further enhanced by guest speakers.
“It opened my eyes to a lot of issues that are out there,” said Amy Bergholz, a third-year German and English major. “I am so much more aware of different viewpoints.”
An integral part of the internship is a one-day retreat, which takes place in the first week of the quarter at Camp St. Croix, a YMCA camp in Hudson, Wis. The students establish groundwork for the quarter. They become familiar with their peers and the issues they’ll encounter during the quarter.
“We want to provide students a place to get together who want to learn about issues of human differences,” said Linda Wolford, Diversity Institute director and founder of the Diversity Connections internship.
This quarter, thanks to additional funding from a Coca-Cola Community Building Initiatives grant, the institute has added a second internship.
Founded under the same principles as its counterpart, Diversity Explorations accepts only eight students, with a more intense focus on the issues.
“We get in depth with issues you really don’t normally talk about with people,” said Taylor Kratt, a junior Spanish major. “It helps develop a sense of awareness through deep dialogue.”
At the end of the quarter, students receive a $100 stipend for their efforts. They also are awarded 15 hours of professional development awareness training, which Abdul-Wahid said is a cherished rÇsumÇ builder.