UChicago Inclusion Workshops offer unique approaches to improving communications

April 1, 2019

Faculty play key roles in fostering a positive climate at the University of Chicago, both within individual academic units and when collaborating with colleagues, students, and staff. The Second Science Project, which was founded at the Booth School of Business in collaboration with Second City, has developed a series of UChicago Inclusion Workshops in collaboration with the Office of the Provost to help all members of the campus community contribute to building a more positive environment. 

Two workshops are currently available. The first workshop in the series, Hearing One Another, helps people develop effective communication and listening skills. Inclusion in Practice is the second workshop, which launched in Autumn Quarter 2018. Building on the skills introduced in Hearing One Another, Inclusion in Practice introduces practical approaches to help people optimize skills for engaging across differences. A third workshop in this series is set to launch in Autumn Quarter 2019.

Michael Kremer, Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Mary R. Morton Professor of Philosophy, attended the Hearing One Another workshop with 35 faculty and graduate students from his department. He also served as a workshop facilitator for incoming students during orientation. 

“We were looking for a program to help us develop a more inclusive climate in the department, and overall, going through the workshop together was a great success,” Kremer said. “I think it helped open up some conversations and introduced some new ways of communicating. The graduate students were very grateful that the faculty were willing to do it with them. I’m thinking of making it a requirement for all our incoming graduate students going forward.”

The workshops combine behavioral science techniques with improvisational practice to cultivate insights and interpersonal skills central to understanding and relating to one another across dimensions of difference. For example, in one exercise from the new Inclusion in Practice workshop, participants respond to prompts such as, “I get a flu shot every year,” and move to their chosen position on a spectrum from never to always. In doing so, participants create a living histogram of responses, and after seeing where others position themselves, people begin to recognize how others might differ from them. The exercise highlights the false consensus bias, our tendency to overestimate the extent to which their opinions, beliefs, preferences, values, and habits are the norm, and additionally, align with those of others.

The skills that these workshops teach are valuable for students, faculty, and staff. In addition to providing concrete skills, such as techniques for better listening and for disagreeing productively, the workshops allow all participants to recognize the blind spots that they might have when they attempt to learn from, mentor, or otherwise engage with others. Recognizing one’s blind spots and learning how to skillfully shift course happens throughout a lifetime, and as a result, everyone has something to learn. Additionally, these workshops help participants to learn about each other and build community.

“These workshops really allow us to spend time thinking about the ways in which we differ from others. Just this time investment in thinking about inclusion—while also having some fun—is incredibly important, and signals to our students and to the rest of our community that we prioritize these issues. It’s contagious in a good way, and it’s led to a big shift.” said Rita Biagioli, Associate Director of the Behavioral Insights Initiative with the Booth School of Business.

Although the workshops were designed in sequence, participants do not need to attend them in order. Each workshop is led by a facilitator who has previously participated in the workshop as an attendee. Open sessions of both workshops are offered on a quarterly basis. Group sessions may be requested for those individuals interested in attending the workshop with their respective departments or units. To request an individual workshop or to get more information, please e-mail secondscienceproject@chicagobooth.edu.