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Stomping the Yard

Five Ways to Promote Diversity On Campus

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Calling all college students!  Our new weekly column, The Yard, aims to help undergrads excel in their studies and social lives.  JETmag.com’s team of experts will show you how to get it done from the day you move into the dorms to the minute you step off campus for that first job. Submit questions and feedback for The Yard via digitalpitches@ebony.com.

For most students of color, making the transition from hometown to college town can be difficult in ways that aren’t necessarily educational. Diversity can make or break the ease of the transition, and a college’s efforts really matter when it comes to making its students feel comfortable on campus.

JET caught up with Darnell Head, one of the founders of Culture Shock, a program for colleges that openly explores race, culture, diversity and everything in between.

JET: Why was Culture Shock created?

Darnell Head: As undergraduate sophomores in 2005, my co-founder and I attended an institution where it was clear that the student body desired a space to share truths and address misconceptions about their cultures and backgrounds. There were multiple programs designed to support singular cultural groups, but rarely was there a chance for all culture groups to be represented in one program. We wanted to create a space for just that. It was important to us that we developed a program that provided voice and agency to all culture groups represented at the campus in a safe and educational way. With Culture Shock and our creation of the unique method of Cultural Hypnosis, we found a way to not only accomplish this, but to do so with complete hilarity.

JET: How do you help people gain a social and historical understanding of racial, gender and cultural stereotypes?

DH: We aim for people to understand how and why stereotypes are created, and what to do once we are victimized by stereotypes, or even when we perpetuate them. We challenge ourselves and our audiences to understand why people think the way we do, and why certain groups and individuals act in certain ways or live by particular codes and norms. Culture Shock actively seeks to learn more about cultural groups that might normally be easily misunderstood. This is sometimes derived from what is portrayed in the media, or what we learned from our family and others in our inner circles.

JET: What roles do stereotypes play on a college campus?

DH: Just think, how many of us have sat in a college course, looked around the classroom and recognized that there is no one in the room that you can relate to? In a similar sense, you may even be of the majority in that same classroom and soon realize that you are no more exempt from being stereotyped than anyone else in the room. We all know stereotypes exist in just about every aspect of life.

What makes this unique on a college campus is that for many students, they were never judged in their pre-college settings, or they were never called out on their misconceptions. If this happens for the first time in a student’s life during the college experience, he or she often struggles with how to respond. Being stereotyped places college students in a box that can often be tough to remove themselves from. That’s the first tragedy of being stereotyped.

Being stereotyped disenfranchises certain groups from truly gaining from the benefits of their university. That’s the second tragedy. In many cases, students become empowered and find their voice after being stereotyped. But, in many more cases, students find it increasingly difficult to discover their sense of belonging at their school and even beyond. That’s the third tragedy. Stereotypes build boundaries which we then never cross. And sadly, it is all based on prejudgment or assumption with no attempt to explore the truth behind those assumptions.

JET: What’s a typical Culture Shock program like?

DH: Culture Shock begins with the engaging comedy and magic of Chuck King. He explores the power of the mind with our audience and gets them prepared for what happens next. Audience members are invited to join us on stage to become the stars of the show and are quickly involved in a number of comical hypnotic suggestions that gets the audience further engaged. Patrick and I move the program forward and work with the stars on stage through numerous amusing cultural scenarios that address true issues of culture and diversity. The Culture Shock program is an overall amazing experience.

JET: What are five ways college students can promote diversity/inclusion on their campus?

DH:

1. Reach out of your comfort zone. Learn more about other cultures. In the same instance, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable to others who desire to learn more about you!

2. Attend campus events. If you aren’t seen across your campus, you run the risk of not having your perspective considered when decisions are made and when misconceptions occur.

3. Be confident in who you are. Know yourself and understand that how you represent yourself is how others will forever perceive and understand you. Be your own brand manager!

4. Be aware. Know what the key issues are on your campus. Be encouraged to speak out against the circumstances that concern you, and advocate for those that support your perspective.

5. Ask questions. College years are the best opportunity to explore and learn more about yourself and others. Become informed about the things that interest you as well as those that confuse you.

To learn more about Culture Shock, visit cultureshockent.com.