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Campus & Community

Getting ‘Stronger’ Together

New Onboarding Program Shows Terps Ups and Downs of History, Commitment to Diversity

By Liam Farrell

Students walk on McKeldin Mall

TerrapinSTRONG’s onboarding program for new students, faculty and staff is part of an overarching university goal of becoming a community that is respectful, inclusive, accountable and open to growth.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

New faculty, staff and student arrivals to UMD have a lot on their plates: figuring out their class schedules and where to park, how to get their ID cards and where to get the best bagel. Now a new onboarding program wants to make sure fresh-faced Terps also get a common foundation in the institution’s history, values and goals.

Launched in summer, the TerrapinSTRONG orientation is an almost hourlong collection of videos and information meant “to create an environment where every member of our community feels that they matter and are empowered to reach their full potential.”

UMD President Darryll J. Pines has described the program as a tool to combat the subtle discrimination and microaggressions that can fester in all institutions, including academia.

“We all bring baggage to the table from wherever we come from, whatever ZIP code we come from, whatever nationality and background we come from. We bring that baggage and those perspectives, sometimes good, sometimes negative, to, in this case, higher education,” Pines said. “Part of dispelling and breaking down those biases is starting foundationally with how we view ourselves as a unit: our mission, our values, our culture.”

The program begins with the good and negative of UMD’s history, from its location on colonized land and heritage as a slave plantation to the experience of trailblazers like Pyon Su, who in 1891 became the first Korean student to receive a degree from any American college or university, and Elizabeth Hook (1920) and Charlotte Vaux (1918), UMD’s first female students. Participants are then given information on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives before being introduced to some of the university’s favorite traditions, like rubbing Testudo’s nose and participating in the student section’s flash mob at home basketball games.

They then are asked to commit to an action plan, be it running for University Senate, visiting the Farmers Market or David C. Driskell Center, or taking the Black History Tour.

The overall goal is “to have a message everyone receives about what we stand for,” said Leslie Krafft, TerrapinSTRONG program manager. “The university community is stronger because they are a part of it.”

TerrapinSTRONG traces its roots to a program that Pines created when he was dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering. Its content was put together in partnership with the Office of the President, Office of Strategic Communications, Teaching and Learning Transformation Center and University Archives, and an advisory group with representatives from University Human Resources, Division of Research, the Office of Undergraduate Studies, the Graduate School, student leaders, the Division of Student Affairs and Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Feedback from attendees so far has praised TerrapinSTRONG for its research, emphasis on action and “willingness to say we need to start by acknowledging and understanding our past.”

Georgina Dodge, vice president for diversity and inclusion, said most of campus, including current faculty and staff, will enroll in TerrapinSTRONG over the next year. It will also be used as a starting point for schools and colleges to consider how diversity, equity and inclusion can inform everyday teaching and study.

“My guiding light is building community that is inclusive and sustainable,” Dodge said. “(TerrapinSTRONG) defines the space that we all belong to. It gives us a common vocabulary.”

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