Josh Work U-Michigan Diversity Diversity Session on Sexual Orientation

The following is a report of the planning leading up to a diversity session for employees in the University of Michigan's Information Technology Division (ITD). It was originally posted to the news group soc.motss on Apr14/90 as message-id <1990Apr14.163855.14676@terminator.cc.umich.edu>.


First, some background. The University of Michigan has a division called the Information Technology Division, or ITD, which is responsible for all the computers on campus (directly or indirectly). Though recently reorganized into new "functional" units, the old organization is easiest to explain. ITD was the "parent company," so to speak, of the Computing Center (CC, in charge of all student, faculty, and some staff computing), Center for Information Technology Integration (CITI, a research unit), and the Office of Administrative Systems (OAS, in charge of all administrative computing, such as payroll and transcripts and registration). Since the people who work within ITD are of a diverse background (different genders, ethnic origins, ages, sexual orientations, veteran status, etc.), the Powers That Be in management decided to implement a "diversity program" to educate the 700+ employees in ITD about such issues.

I was then a student/temporary employee within ITD, so I was understandably surprised when, in mid December (1989) I got an e-mail message from one of the senior managers asking for my input on an upcoming session on sexual orientation. (All previous sessions had dealt with issues of race and culture (black/white, anglo/hispanic or anglo/asian, etc.) I tenatively agreed to attend a meeting of the Diversity Steering Committee, as did other gay people (to be more accurate, as did three lesbians), and on January 17th we all met.

The committee itself included a lesbian, a bisexual woman, and a man who thinks he's bisexual. We got to know each other, as a group, and got down to the serious work of planning a session to educate 700 or so people who didn't want to be educated on gay issues (especially in the workplace).

The planning went really well. The last few days before the session itself were hectic, as we tried to get everything finalized for the program finished (with two members of the committee out of town, and one of the co-chairs out of the country on a two-week vacation). Nevertheless, we managed to pull it off.

The session itself (there were three during the course of the day) was structured as follows:

An optional third hour was provided to meet the panelists and discuss further any issues or questions that remained.

We were understandably anxious about the program, especially since we knew there are several people with very religious backgrounds, and a lot of closed-minded people in ITD. However, much to our surprise, the sessions went astonishingly well. The post-session evaluations indicate that a lot of people learned new things, were apprehensive before but pleased after the session, found the session helpful, and so on. In fact, only about 10 to 15 of the 500 to 550 evaluations that were turned in were negative; the rest were overwhelmingly positive.

Apparently, ITD was the first unit at the University (and possibly the country) to hold such a session for an audience this large. We're really excited about how well this went. Time will tell, at the workplace, what sort of changes will actually take place based on this session.


Last update May19/08 by Josh Simon (<jss@clock.org>).