Dang Yang, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at UW-Eau Claire, says the nation’s racial unrest makes it clear why the university’s new cultural intelligence training program is relevant to local businesses and organizations.

EAU CLAIRE — With protesters decrying racial injustice across the country, UW-Eau Claire officials are hoping for strong community interest in a new program that aims to build cultural intelligence.

At first glance, the program would seem to be a direct response to a summer of racial unrest following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25 when a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. That incident — and others involving alleged police mistreatment of minorities — ignited a storm of protests in Minneapolis, Eau Claire and cities around the world.

The reality is UW-Eau Claire’s offices of Multicultural Affairs and Continuing Education have been working on offering the outreach program to Chippewa Valley businesses and organizations for at least six months.

“This is actually pretty good timing with what is happening in the world right now,” Kayla Piper, outreach program manager, said about the launch of the Building Cultural Intelligence Certificate series. “I think there’s definitely a need and a want for this type of education.”

The idea is to bring some of the university’s expansive diversity-related programming to the wider community.

With an increasing number of local businesses and community groups seeking more information and reaching out to UW-Eau Claire equity experts for that type of training, university officials decided it would be wise to make such programming easily and widely available.

“There has always been an imperative to meet this need,” said Dang Yang, director of the university’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. “What’s different this year is the volume in regards to the voices that we’re hearing that are asking for this change. It’s no longer convenient to just wait and see what happens. It is absolutely necessary to take action at this time.”

While some business and industry leaders in the past have wondered how to make such training seem relevant to employees, the events of 2020 should make the relevancy clear, Yang said.

Ultimately, he said, the new program should help officials at area businesses and organizations know how to take actions they’ve wanted to pursue but didn’t know where to start.

“Our goal is to illuminate existing social structures that perpetuate inequities and through that we hope to provide tangible and practical strategies people can use to address those inequities,” Yang said.

The program, which begins Oct. 8, will include three seven-hour training sessions, each offered once in the fall and once in spring semester. The sessions focus on identifying and reducing bias and microaggressions in the workplace; understanding terminology and creating safe, inclusive spaces for people of all genders and sexual orientations; and strategies for creating culturally intelligent organizations. While organizers hope to offer the training in person eventually, it will begin as a virtual program with significant opportunities to be interactive as a precaution against spreading the coronavirus.

The goal is to help business leaders, supervisors and employees advance equity, diversity and inclusion goals within their organizations, Piper said, adding, “You don’t have to be a leader to have an influence.”

“Sometimes people can have good intentions, but they aren’t followed up by their actions and they can be unintentionally marginalizing people,” Piper said. “My goal with this programming is to create a community where everybody feels welcome.”