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Huskies encouraged to participate in revamped CODE program

September 10, 2020

The need for Conversations on Diversity and Equity (CODE) has taken on a sense of urgency.

Those who’ve participated in NIU’s past CODE Institutes are encouraging their fellow faculty, staff and graduate students to enroll in a revamped CODE Institute, a Social Justice Education program offered through Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The program has shifted from a two-day intensive program to a six-week online experience. The first course begins Sept. 14, and those interested can register now.

The CODE Institute trains facilitators of the university’s CODE Workshops, a series that engages students, faculty and staff in learning about cultural differences. Others can customize the course to simply gain knowledge and engage with their fellow participants.

The institute not only leads to future CODE facilitators, it informs how those involved approach their work, colleagues, students and the entire NIU community, said Professor Mehdi Semati, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Communication.

“The training is vital and is needed more than ever,” said Semati, who took the training last spring. “With every headline we read in the news of the day, we are reminded how important such a training is. The current socio-political context gives the program a sense of urgency in a way that is difficult to miss.”

Along with exploring general diversity concepts, participants in the CODE Institute will gain a stronger understanding of their identities, personal beliefs and values related to cultural and social inequalities.

Among the institute’s most positive outcomes is the sense of community it instills in participants, Semati said.

“You are engaged in a form of investment that benefits the community precisely because it strengthens one’s relationship to that community,” he said.

For Associate Professor James Cohen, Ph.D., the institute represents a valuable learning opportunity, especially today. He took the course about 2½ years ago, having become interested in social justice issues at a young age.

Cohen, an associate professor of ESL/Bilingual Education, remembers having his tires slashed and a swastika written on his driveway as a young Jewish boy. As he grew older, he studied the issues of discrimination and systematic racism.

“The more I’ve learned about it, the more I get angry and the more it drives me,” he said.

The importance of the CODE program becomes even more apparent amid today’s social unrest and the Black Lives Matter Movement, which speaks to the oppression and wide-scale discrimination black people have experienced for hundreds of years, he said.

“Even though I’ve been doing this kind of work for decades, I went to the CODE Institute because I wanted to learn, because I know I don’t know everything,” Cohen sad. “If we are trying to be lifelong learners then we need to go to these types of things.”

Having the program stretched out over six weeks will allow for more internalization of the content, he said.

Essential to the campus community, the CODE Institute supports the efforts of Associate Professor Joseph Flynn, Ph.D., Associate Director of Academic Affairs at the Center for Black Studies, to help the community explore and engage in crucial issues.

Recent events show there continues to be a broad range of misunderstanding and misrepresentations about diversity work and anti-racism, Flynn said.

“Our society has consistently received misinformation about the intersection of identity, power and oppression while simultaneously saying we wish we could get past these problems,” he said. “Well, if we do not face them and learn their dynamics then we will never be able to move on.

“President Trump called these trainings divisive. They are not designed to be divisive, but they are challenging. If we do not have spaces to work through that challenge and recognize the roots of competing experiences then we will not be able to move closer toward a beloved, just society that honors all citizens.”

Those who participate become self-aware of their own biases and privileges, an important asset for faculty and staff working with NIU’s diverse population, said Khyla Breland, a graduate staff assistant for Housing and Residential Services. Breland took the institute last year.

“The institute also allows us to recognize our differences and similarities so that we can build community amongst ourselves,” she said. “One of the quotes I remember when participating in a workshop is, ‘What is learned here, leaves here.’ I believe that is powerful because it enforces the idea that we must continue to learn and do the work outside of the space so that we are putting the information learned into practice.”