One afternoon a month this past academic year, twenty-four UCF faculty and staff members gathered for an introspective journey together. Some of them knew each other prior to the first meeting. Some of them have worked at the university for decades, and some are just starting out. They peruse the selection of snacks before finding their seats, facing each other, and wait for the program to begin. What brought them together each afternoon was the desire to dig deeper, think differently, and better themselves through constructive conversations about difficult topics.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s inaugural cohort of the national Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) project on inclusive curriculum might be new to UCF, but it was founded over 30 years ago. Dr. Peggy McIntosh, formerly of Wellesley College Centers for Women, “launched SEED as an experiment to confirm her belief that teachers could be leaders of their own professional development,” according to the national website. SEED has since become the nation’s largest peer-led professional development project, engaging over 30,000 teachers who have in turn influenced more than 30 million students worldwide.

“SEED has been one of the most meaningful training and formation related programs that I have participated in since coming to UCF,” says Jeanine E. Viau, Ph.D., who has been a lecturer of Religion and Cultural Studies within the Department of Philosophy since 2014. “I found the interpersonal engagement very refreshing, especially in such a large and often alienating institutional setting. Also, Rachel [Luce-Hitt, ODI Coordinator of Educational/Training Programs] is a skilled and dedicated diversity specialist and educator.” Ms. Luce-Hitt is a trained SEED facilitator and led each month’s program and discussion, including educating the cohort members on respectful dialogue best practices and systemic power structures that influence diversity and inclusion within our environments. “I learned a great deal from her, and I am encouraged knowing that I have someone to call as I seek to implement SEED strategies in my classroom. I am very grateful for this experience.”

The goal of SEED is to look at diversity and inclusion topics through considerate and understanding group dialogues, self-reflection, and learning opportunities, taking those new perspectives to classrooms, workplaces, and communities. “SEED isn’t what you expect it to be,” La Toya Crittenden says, Administrative Assistant with the Office of Student Involvement. Ms. Crittenden has been with the university since 2011. “You find yourself finding a safe space you didn’t know you need. Personally, I found a space that allowed me to self-reflect and, though it sounds cliché, find myself and who I want to be.”

The cohort approach of SEED is what many participants attribute to what makes the program so successful. “With UCF being so large, the SEED program offered a rare opportunity to discuss and process a wide variety of issues related to diversity and campus civility in a safe environment,” adds Bill Blank, Director of Career Development with Career Services, who has been at UCF for sixteen years. “Being able to communicate with honesty and authenticity resulted in a better understanding of myself as well as the diverse group of participants.”

“SEED taught me the importance of listening to other peoples’ stories,” affirms Doshie Walker, Human Resources Generalist with the Office of Research & Commercialization, who has been with the university since 2006. “We all have stories. SEED empowered me to take the lessons learned back to my organization and implement the practices into learning initiatives to help develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for diversity and inclusion.”

Shauna Strickler, the Assistant Director of Career Development with Career Services, comments: “SEED was an amazing opportunity to challenge myself and open my heart and mind to other’s journeys. Discussing the variety of topics of gender bias, privilege, microaggressions, and more, allowed me to reflect and challenge myself to become more aware of my interactions with others in my life.”

Overall, participants of the inaugural cohort felt they had not only achieved personal and professional development from SEED, but also a new clan of comrades and confidants at UCF.

“If I had to explain it in one word, I would use the word ‘Ohana’,” Ms. Crittenden remarks. “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind, or forgotten.”

Interested in being a part of UCF’s 2017-18 cohort of SEED? Apply by Monday, June 5th. Find out more information on SEED at UCF.

If you have any questions, please contact Rachel Luce-Hitt for more information.