Monthly Archives: May 2016

The library as a community safe space

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“It was kind of overwhelming, but in a good way, you know? It felt safe, which…to be honest, is not always how I feel around here.”

I happened to be walking across campus last semester and overheard two students of color talking in front of me. They were leaving a student affinity group event, which, ironically, was located next door to the faculty/staff affinity group event that I was attending. The student’s comment made me, A.) nod in recognition, B.) smile at the student, and C.) wonder how this type of comment fits into the wider discussion about diversity and inclusion…

Discussions about diversity and inclusion have been all over the place of late, particularly with some of the racially driven incidents we’ve faced on campus recently. Additionally, articles abound about diversity in the workplace, diversity in library user populations, and diversity in hiring and retention. But what do we mean when we say diverse populations?

A few minutes ago, I was listening to a webinar on intersectionalities in education and they opened by doing an exercise in which individuals were supposed to identify five words that they would use to describe themselves. Then they had to limit to three words. And finally one word. The point of the exercise is that no one word or identify wholly encapsulates the entirety of our personhood, but in many cases, people see only the outwardly descriptive parts (gender, race, etc.) and there are many other identities that have just as much meaning.

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Students studying in the Glen at TU (image courtesy of TU)

When we talk about diversity, we too often stop at the outwardly descriptive identities. That’s not to say that those identities aren’t important (tbh, if I had to pick one identity, it would probably be race), but they’re not the only ones.

This summer, I’m taking a stab at addressing some of that by planning a staff development series in partnership with colleagues both on and off campus. Within this series, we’ll be looking at different student populations who may be often overlooked (and some who aren’t) when we think of diversity. However obvious these identities are, they likely have some impact on the academic experiences of student populations.

So far, I’ve had a great response rate from potential partners and am planning to focus on the following populations over the course of this series:

  • students with mental health concerns
  • international students and English language learners
  • military and veteran students
  • students with learning disabilities
  • students who identify as LGBTQ
  • students of color

Additionally, I’m working with one of our student employees to plan an outreach initiative focused on connecting with student organizations on campus. We’re targeting groups that either have an academic focus  or serve to highlight or celebrate different cultural identities. So far, we’ve partnered with one student group this past semester to host a study night before finals.

The idea behind all of this is to encourage awareness of the library as place and as an integral part of the campus community. It also allows library staff to increase in awareness of often invisible student populations, so that we can better engage with them and meet their needs. Maybe in future semesters, we’ll be hearing students say that the library is overwhelming, but in a good way. You know?