Franklin College plans diversity trainings, hires new director

Franklin College is taking several steps to make all students feel welcomed on its campus.

The college’s new director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Maegan Pollonais, is hitting the ground running, implementing new programming aimed at helping students of all races understand each other better.

Pollonais comes to the role with previous experience implementing diversity, equity and inclusion programming at Manchester University, a majority white liberal arts school in North Manchester, Indiana. She managed Manchester’s Jean Childs Young Intercultural Center, and assisted in developing and retaining students of color and international students.

In that role, she worked to engage the full student body, not just the students of color. She worked with students with disabilities and those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Now, she hopes to expand on that work at Franklin College, she said.

“To actually change the culture you have to be able to engage with all of the student body,” Pollonais said. “My technique is … reaching out to our students with a lot of open dialogue. My father always told me this — and it take it today to be true — that nobody is going to be bullied into change, nobody is going to be forced into change. We have to open that conversation for people to be vulnerable and to express their differences and their confusions — to create a safe space and also a brave space to express that.”

Previously, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion was focused on educating both faculty and students, but the role has shifted now to focus more on students, said Andrew Jones, vice president for student development. Pollonais will still work with human resources and the associate dean for academic affairs to implement faculty diversity training, he said.

Pollonais’s job will be to engage all students, even those who aren’t up to speed or might be skeptical about diversity efforts. To build this conversation with students, she will enlist help from faculty and students alike, she said.

“A lot of minority people think ‘there is a lot of information out there so I don’t need to educate you.’ But for me, personally, a better approach is to lean in and engage in those conversations,” Pollonais said. “Some people don’t know where to go or how to have those conversations. In the past, I have really just worked with all of our students. There needs to be this kind of triangulation, it is not just my center that does this. My center needs to work with the faculty and the staff and encourage our students to have those kinds of conversations.”

The new diversity programming that will be debuted this year are the product of conversations with students of color and members of the Black Student Union, Jones said.

From Welcome Week on, the programming sets goals to reach a greater understanding of diversity and to wrap their arms around students of color.

Before other students get to campus, resident assistants will undergo a full day of diversity training, and student leaders will attend a leadership retreat with a diversity component, Pollonais said.

All incoming students will have diversity training during their first week on campus, and freshmen will have ongoing diversity education in their first-year seminar, Jones said.

“We try to get that critical information out as quickly as possible and throughout their first year so it doesn’t appear to them as a ‘now I’ve learned this and I can move on’ sort of thing, but as an ‘I need to be constantly learning and developing’ sort of thing,” Pollonais said.

Students of color will have an extra orientation program that will emphasize that they have allies at the majority white institution, which is something Black students have told administration was lacking, she said.

New efforts are focused on the Black student experience, but Pollonais is looking at ways to involve other identities so all students can understand each other better, she said.

“Diversity is not just racial and ethnic groups, disabilities and sexual orientation. We all have diversity stories and something that makes us different,” Pollonais said. “When we focus just on those things that separate us, that’s the issue, right? But we need to understand our differences to come together.”