Callous Quip Spurs Sensitivity Workshops

Alison Herget, Asbury Park Press (NJ), March 7, 2006

MIDDLETOWN—A derogatory comment published in an internal newsletter distributed to Brookdale Community College’s staff members has prompted college President Peter Burnham to require mandatory “sensitivity training” for the school’s more than 1,000 employees.

The mandatory daylong workshops to be offered starting March 22 will feature discussions and activities to teach about the language of hate, with the goal of getting participants to show respect for others’ differences, said Stephen Nacco, college spokesman.

“This will be a new, continuous commitment,” Nacco said of the workshop, which will have follow-up sessions throughout the year.

The order followed the publication of an unnamed staff member’s mock prediction of menu items that were to be served at the college’s Feb. 25 “Diversification Breakfast.” At least one item was a food that is racially stereotyped. The breakfast is an annual event to interest those of diverse backgrounds to apply for positions at the college.

Although the college has presented mandatory workshops to teach about diversity issues in the past, the most recent one was in 2003 and did not include follow-up classes.

“There is absolute good coming out of something bad here,” Nacco said.

That “something bad” was the comment published in the “Rumor” section of a Feb. 21 edition of a newsletter called Inside Track. It was intended to be funny but the comment was not viewed as a joke by many of the college’s employees, or by Burnham.

Burnham sent out a memorandum to staff members two days after the newsletter was published to “directly and unequivocally note my concern and disgust with the grossly insensitive remarks” made in the “Rumor” section.

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