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VCU School of Education Develops Statewide DEI Training

Research has shown that addressing unconscious bias will contribute to creating a more equitable society. A team at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education is leading statewide diversity, equity and inclusion training for those who work with people with disabilities — a training that is open to all.

The Partnership for People with Disabilities in the School of Education is collaborating with the School of Education’s Office of Strategic Engagement to lead a six-session online training course on diversity, equity and inclusion this fall, aimed primarily at employees of Medicaid home- and community-based organizations.

The VCU-led Training on Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (TIDE) project, part of a $160,000 grant from the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities, aims to increase the quality of care and services for Virginians with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The partnership was awarded the grant last year.

Dana Yarbrough, TIDE principal investigator and associate director at the partnership, said that this is the first training of its kind that she’s ever seen.

“There are trainings that teach direct support professionals about cultural competence, but we like to come at it a little differently,” Yarbrough said. “Our view is that you’ll never be completely culturally competent. You’ll always continue to strive and build your cultural agility.”

Yarbrough was inspired to collaborate with the Office of Strategic Engagement after participating in their successful Becoming an Antiracist Educator Series last year. She was impressed, she said, by how facilitators designed those sessions in a way that encouraged participants to be open and reflective in a group setting, providing the freedom for them to shift their mindsets.

“We knew right from the start that we had chosen the right people to facilitate our sessions,” Yarbrough said.

Tessa Boutwell, a professional learning facilitator with the Office of Strategic Engagement, said that this open, reflective approach is very valuable for participants.

“It allows people to process a lot of important information in a way that’s engaging and thought-provoking,” she said. “The TIDE series this fall will be a great opportunity for people who are open and interested in shifting their mindsets around people with disabilities.”

Tamara Dias, Ed.D., the Office of Strategic Engagement’s professional development facilitator, said that these sessions are also very effective at meeting people wherever they are in their work and in their practice.

“Whether you’re a support counselor, a teacher, or someone who works the front desk, you’ll be able to see how the content is relevant to you in your work,” she said. “We do a very good job of individualizing the experience.”

Seb M. Prohn, Ph.D., assistant director of research and evaluation at the partnership, analyzed feedback from a pilot session of this training held in the spring.

“At the end of the training, all respondents were motivated to change their practices and to learn more about how to consider bias, privilege, power, culture, and the intersection of culture and disability when providing support for people with disabilities,” Prohn said. “They described a need to be more empathetic, to listen more carefully, to honor rights and opinions of people with disabilities, and to be allies and co-conspirators in change.”

Everyone on the collective team agreed that a foundational component of the series would be to include people with disabilities in the creation of the training, as well as in each individual session. For example, each session features a video from a person with a disability talking about that session, sharing their perspective and reminding people what they need to be thinking about.

Angela West, TIDE project coordinator and a multicultural specialist for the Center for Family Involvement at the Partnership for People with Disabilities, selected the videos of self-advocates in Virginia who introduced each topic of the training. West said that the training is centered around a core belief at the partnership.

“At the Partnership for People with Disabilities, we believe that it’s really important to focus on the individual, the whole person, and not just on someone with a disability,” she said. “That’s what really excites me about this project. People just want to be respected and treated like an individual. They want to be valued.”

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