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Diversity class debuts at Drake


What does it take to step out of your comfort zone?

For Lisa Boomershine, a Drake University senior who is white, it meant stopping her car on a snowy evening to pick up a black student she didn’t know and offer her a ride home.

As one of 21 students in thenew Managing Diversity class at Drake, Boomershine is learning that dealing with diversity goes well beyond coming to terms with racial differences.

“I think diversity is something that affects anyone and everyone who’s in business,” said Boomershine, who worked for eight years as a radio morning show host before enrolling in Drake to earn a degree in human resources management. “This class is allowing me to do new things I may not have thought of to get out of my comfort zone.”

Some of the class activities she and her classmates have experienced so far this semester: navigating Drake’s hallways in wheelchairs, stuffing marshmallows into their mouths to simulate trying to communicate with a speech impediment, and watching an improvisational theater troupe made up of people recovering from mental health problems.

Delaney Kirk, the professor teaching the course, said the idea for a diversity management class has been in the planning stages at Drake for the past 14 years, but had never been implemented until she agreed to teach the class.

“I couldn’t find a textbook on managing diversity,” she said. “There are chapters in management textbooks on diversity, but not an entire textbook on it. So I really started from scratch.”

There are no tests in the class. Instead, Kirk is requiring each student to keep a journal to record his or her reactions to assigned videos and panel discussions on diversity issues. The students also must write and present a couple of research papers on diversity.

Few colleges and universities are addressing these issues, either in Iowa or nationally, said Bob Jeppesen, executive director of the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living, also known as CICIL, in Des Moines. The non-profit organization has provided diversity training to businesses since 1990.

“My feeling on it is that disability issues are things people really don’t want to address,” he said. “When children are curious about someone with a disability, their parents pull them away. Children get along very well with all kinds of people. I think it’s the fear of ignorance that’s been instilled in us by society.”

For Kirk’s class, CICIL provided wheelchairs for the students to try, and also had them wear dark glasses and attempt to use a cane as a blind person would. The marshmallow experiment was also the group’s idea.

“The comments we’ve gotten back from the students were very, very positive,” Jeppesen said. “They said they had never realized the problems people with disabilities had in their everyday lives. It was very interesting to them.”

In another session, the class saw a performance by the Central Iowa Players “Stigma Busters,” an improvisational troupe whose members share their experiences with the mental health system, in an effort to overcome the stigma attached to mental illness.

“We are a theater group, not a therapy group,” said the group’s director, Thomas Perrine, in a publicity brochure. “It just happens that some of the side effects are therapeutic. We work hard at perfecting our craft, mirroring the world as we see it and as it sees us. Our results are powerful and real.”

In addition to gaining new perspectives on physical and mental disabilities, the class has sessions scheduled on learning disabilities, religious diversity, and the challenges faced by immigrants in overcoming ethnic differences.

Business people interested in taking the class will have an opportunity to enroll this summer, Kirk said, when the course is offered at the graduate level.

“I’m really excited about that,” she said.


“Now I get it. They’re not wrong. They’re just different.” -Morris Massey     The Drake Business Link will present a workshop on diversity on Friday, April 16, from 1-4 pm. A video by Morris Massey, a national expert on diversity issues, will be presented which discusses people’s value systems and how they affect behavior when someone is confronted by someone seen as “different.”

Massey asks us to think about what assumptions we are making about age, sex, race, family, and religion. After the video, local diversity experts will divide the participants into smaller groups and discuss how to improve relations with co-workers, bosses, and others who come from different backgrounds.

For more information,contact Delaney J. Kirk at 271-3724 or delaney.kirk@drake.edu.   

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