By Matthew Early
In the few short months since its debut on January 1, Tiffin University’s new Center for InterculTUral Excellence (CIE) has done much in the way of changing campus to embody the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). However, this commitment to cultural sensitivity and awareness doesn’t just apply to TU circles anymore, as the movement has extended beyond University walls. Recently, the Center began helping third-party organizations with DEI-based training and structural changes. Those closely involved are continually proud to share their expertise with the world and take this necessary work to the next level through the platform they’ve been given.
To honor the Center’s half-birthday, it seemed only fitting to chat with a few of the people responsible for its overwhelming success – to pick their brains about all that has been accomplished to date as well as what noteworthy plans they have in mind for the future. Ms. Nadia Lewis is the Vice President for Human Resources and the Center for InterculTUral Excellence, Dr. Julia Porter serves as Director of the Center for InterculTUral Excellence and Mr. Jacob Simon is the Assistant Vice President for InterculTUral and Community Engagement. When asked if they were willing to participate in an interview, each of them jumped at the chance.
Since opening last winter, the Center has served nine outside organizations, including a mix of other colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations and independent businesses. Most notably though, the Center has plans to collaborate with the Ohio Diversity Council (OHDC).
“The Ohio chapter is part of a larger collaborative,” Nadia explained. “The OHDC serves as the premier resource for diversity, best relevant practices and leadership development in the state of Ohio. It is currently comprised of five advisory boards: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo. It was a great goal of ours to work with them as we are collectively united in the work of advancing the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion pertaining to all facets of the workplace.”
According to Nadia, President Lillian Schumacher is slated to join the Ohio Diversity Board of Directors. Nadia plans to serve on the Ohio Diversity Advisory Board starting in June as well. In addition, Nadia is excited to speak at an upcoming manufacturing summit, hosted by the Ohio Diversity Council in September.
All three leaders cited that it has been a privilege and a joy to work with and mentor those who have sought help with DEI practices.
“Thinking back to one of our most recent trainings – it was refreshing to see that group grow in its confidence from beginning to end,” said Julia. “Though this work is uncomfortable, they came to trust us as time went on, eventually taking the skills they were taught and using them to come up with plans for the future of their organization. This particular group even went above and beyond what was expected of them and sought to continue learning after the sessions concluded, many wanting to apply this knowledge to their personal lives as a next step. This was heartwarming and unexpected. That’s really what the Center is about, though – inspiring these people to continue growing after we leave. It requires an ongoing commitment and isn’t just a box to be checked off.”
Similarly to Julia, Jacob also found their most recent series of trainings to be impactful, though for a different reason.
“This is a passion of mine, so I’ve done a lot of research on the subject,” he began. “There are certain words, phrases and phenomena that are foundational in the world of DEI, such as Bobbie Harro’s ‘Cycle of Socialization.’ As I was explaining these concepts to the participants, I could see lightbulbs going off for many of them, as they finally had the vocabulary necessary to describe the feelings they’d held for some time to others. In general, people know when changes have to be made, but don’t always have the tools needed to be effective advocates. Learning these industry terms allowed them to better communicate individual and organizational needs to me, which helped everyone involved.”
Nadia then went on to make a statement the other two agreed with wholeheartedly – that another big part of what makes this work both personally impactful to them as well as successful as an initiative is how well the trio meshes.
“Our group’s synergy absolutely plays a role in our success,” she said. “We are comfortable with each other and work so well together, that the vibe we create in these spaces is palpable – one of warmth and acceptance, which is so important when encouraging others to engage in introspection. People pick up on the confidence created by this dynamic and mimic it, feeling more at ease. We also find ourselves getting lost in the momentum of planning, whether it be prepping to meet with new partners or tweaking things after a session concludes. We feed off each other’s love for what we’re doing and inspire each other. You can’t necessarily track this kind of success on paper or see it reflected on a revenue sheet, but to me, this willingness to leap unafraid into the unknown as a team is what I’m most proud of.”
Julia and Nadia both explained that the above sentiment is part of what makes the role that the Center played on a podcast, produced by McGohan Brabender, a health insurance broker that works with companies to help with benefit plan design and maximizing their benefits, such a valuable resource for potential clients. It affords them an unobstructed glimpse into the trio’s dynamic and reinforces that this is more than just a job to them, but a true passion project.
Another major task these three are completing on behalf of the Center is what they simply call the assessment, which refers to an intercultural aptitude survey that anyone can complete to gauge their current level of cultural sensitivity, as well as identify relevant strengths and areas in need of improvement. This is a multi-department collaborative project, involving both President Schumacher and Provost Dr. Peter Holbrook.
“Now that the software is up and running, we’re working on publishing a book about our initial findings,” said Julia. “Some TU doctoral students have even gotten involved with the project and several plan to continue our work through their own dissertation research. This is so exciting to me – that we’re sharing what we’ve learned with others and giving them the opportunity to both learn alongside us and use our findings as a springboard. I look forward to seeing what they’ll uncover as they dig even deeper.”
The three also expressed their immense gratitude to the many internal volunteers who have helped maintain TU’s commitment to DEI practices while they have been on the road visiting other organizations.
“Change begins at home,” Jacob began. “In order for us to effectively and responsibly teach others, we need to ensure we stay unwavering in our belief that this is both a goal and a process. Our many wonderful volunteers who continue this work internally while we’re doing the same for our clients provide such a valuable service. They give us feedback on what goes well, what doesn’t, where there is room for improvement and allow us to regroup and amend things accordingly upon our return. It’ll never stop changing – we don’t want it to.”
Jacob continued the sentiment, perfectly describing a key takeaway the Center’s trainers try to instill in all who take their coursework. He said, “Many people think that once a certain benchmark is reached, the work simply ends, or that trying imperfectly is a failure by default. Neither is true – the day we reach perfection will never come, but we can and should always try to be better than we were yesterday. Perfection is impossible, but excellence isn’t. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Maya Angelou – ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’ This is what I hope everybody who works with the Center comes to learn and embody.”
For more information about the Center for InterculTUral Excellence and the Celebrating CulTUral Uniqueness at TU movement, visit tiffin.edu/about/center-for-intercultural-excellence/.