The University of Wisconsin – Whitewater Housing and Residence Life is a featured program.
Created by UW-Whitewater Residence Life in 1998, Boxes and Walls is an interactive diversity experience created for our students and the entire UW-W community. Originally Boxes & Walls began as diversity training for Resident Assistants, who found it so valuable they asked that it be expanded for all students. The name of the program fits the purpose of the experience, which is to think outside of the box by throwing away stereotypes and tearing down walls of division. Boxes and Walls can best be described as an interactive Haunted House. Instead of walking through rooms full of ghouls and ghosts, the participants walk through various experiences of diversity and oppression.
The interactive experience offers participants a tour of six rooms reflecting different experiences. Boxes & Walls 2015 included African American, Latino/Latina, ability, sexual orientation, gender, and socioeconomic status rooms. Each experience allows participants to feel and/or sense what life is like from various diverse perspectives. The power of this program is realized when the participants feel the oppression that many of our students live through on a daily basis. Ultimately, our goal is to host a program that helps students experience diversity.
Last year, the student’s comments ranged from the eye-opening effect to the shock that each experience created. After each student group finishes the tour of the six rooms, they sit down with a graduate student in our counseling program or a professional staff member to process the experience. In total, the duration of the experience for the student groups is approximately 75 minutes.
Boxes & Walls has been hosted as an evening program throughout one week, starting on Sunday and ending on Thursday in the fall semester. On average, the first group is sent through starting at 6PM, our last group starts at 10PM. Tour guides bring groups of sixteen participants through the 75 minute experience (including processing). Each room experience is at most twelve minutes and minimally eight minutes.
This past year room facilitation have expanded to include other interested campus professionals. Traditionally, experience and room design, volunteer recruitment, and facilitation has been divided amongst our Residence Life staff. Approximately 300 volunteers are actively recruited to make this campus-wide experience happen.
Boxes & Walls 2015 saw over 1,500 participants go through the program and is the largest diversity program hosted on the UWW campus. UWW residence life has collaborated with the academic community through New Student Seminar as an out of class diversity experience option as well as requiring the Resident Assistant staff to bring their floors through as a part of the community building curriculum.
How do you recruit so many student volunteers?
We tap all of our networks – student organizations, student leaders within the residence halls, and collaborate with our Diversity Advocates and Peer Mentors on campus to help with the mosaic room and tour guide slots respectively. What we see is excitement from underrepresented student organizations in helping develop the experience in the room and then helping facilitate it.
How do you decide on what each room or experience will be?
We do a lot of research about what has been impactful in the past with each room, read through feedback we glean as a part of the program in the processing room, and reach out to our underrepresented student organizations on campus for ideas. Ultimately it is up to the room facilitators (and approved through the program supervisor) about what the experience is going to consist of. We also try to incorporate current issues in the news and on campus to make the experience relevant to our students.
Other than the six rooms, what else in involved in planning this program?
Other than the six room experiences we have as a part of the program, we also have the processing room where we collaborate with our University Health and Counseling Services as well as our Counseling maters program to recruit graduate volunteers to help groups process their experience.
Our Mosaic Room is a combination of literature, displays, and activities for those waiting to go through the program. Our Diversity Advocates also facilitate active diversity programs that they offer throughout the year in the residence halls.
We also assign a staff member to marketing & volunteer coordination. This person’s responsibility is to make sure we are marketing to all of our appropriate groups on campus about the program and contact volunteers from previous years to see if they are interested in volunteering again. They are also our main person for people to contact if they are interested in volunteering but not actively recruited by a room.
We also work with one of our dining facilities on campus to house the program. Finding a facility that you can keep each room set up all week while also being able to secure each room can be a challenge depending on your campus and available space.
Line management is also another challenge that is overseen by a site supervisor each night. Our site supervisor is responsible for keeping the program moving smoothly and resolving any issues that pop up. We have a card reservation system that when we open at the beginning of the evening we know exactly how many participants we can put through and when. On the card is the day as well as time they are expected to be back to go through the experience. We also have a stand-by line for those who want to go through the program when we run out of spots for that evening. We pull from the stand-by line when we have incomplete groups (i.e. someone does not return in time to go through at their scheduled time). We were lucky and everyone who waited to go through the program had the opportunity to.
Is there any follow-up conversations for students who have been affected by the program?
We host a follow-up program for participants affected by Boxes & Walls and who want a space to do additional discussion around current topics, their experience in the program, or on our campus climate. This program is usually facilitated a few weeks after the initial program in a round table format and facilitated by Residence Life staff.
Submitted by Amanda Murphy, Complex Director, University of Wisconsin – Whitewater