The Elephant in the Room series normally holds in-person workshops that shine light on “conversation and action for diversity, equity and inclusion in the classroom and beyond,” according to its website, but program organizers are now looking at different ways to connect with students and faculty now that the only way to reach them is through online means.
What would have been workshops is now a regular blog that organizers are hoping will be able to host the conversations that would have come up at the workshops. The Elephant’s COVID-19 Diary kicked off with its first post April 13: “…most of all, this is about you. What you think and what you feel. This is your community. So, before we get down to business, how are you?”
So far, this post has been met with nine responses, many of which followed common themes Melanie Duncan, a sociology professor who is helping to facilitate the Elephant’s Diary, hears from her students. Participants commented on the struggles they’re facing and the emotions that have manifested over the first few weeks of being stuck inside.
What organizers are hoping to find through the blog are topics that many people wouldn’t initially think about because they might not be going through the struggles personally.
“Someone wrote about the fact that the reason why they didn’t want to go online as an instructor is that it’s very difficult for them to be on the computer, and so they’re using dictation software,” Duncan said. “There are things that we don’t even think of when we talk about all of this that make it more challenging, not just from the student side of things.”
Elephant’s Diary is meant to be a place where the IUP community can go to talk about how these topics are exacerbated by COVID-19.
“We want to see with all of this, how can we change IUP?” Duncan said. “I say that as ‘how can we come out better from all of this? What are the lessons we’re learning? And how can Elephant help those conversations?’”
The blog encourages responses to its posts, as the whole point is to spark conversation. Commenters can remain anonymous if they so choose.
Duncan said many of the people who are commenting right now are professors, but she hopes more students will want to engage in the conversations as time goes on. Her team is working to create an Twitter page to better connect with students on the platforms they’re already using.
Duncan and Dr. Lynn Botelho, director of the women’s and gender studies department, are taking the lead on the blog, but behind the scenes, an entire committee has helped to shape the Elephant series, including Stephanie Taylor-Davis, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, and graduate assistant Angie Prencipe.
“Where [The Elephant in the Room] started and where it’s been for the last two years is really trying to address some of the conversations we don’t have on campus and really talking about diversity, equity and inclusion, and not just from the perspective of in the classroom,” Duncan said. “And in this instance, how do all these DEI issues impact students, faculty, staff and community members.”
Women’s and Gender Studies and the Center for Teaching Excellence partnered together to host The Elephant in the Room series. The Elephant in the Room organizers wanted the workshops to focus on participants gaining skills that could then lead to application around campus.
“We often have a very narrow focus of [DEI], and there’s so much that’s under that DEI umbrella,” Duncan said. “There are things that predate COVID-19 when you talk about accessibility, when you talk about faith, when you talk about anything like that.”
Two spring The Elephant in the Room events that got postponed are “Strategies to Intentionally Use Group Work to Transform Hate, Facilitate Courageous Conversations and Enhance Community Building” with IUP’s Brittany Polard, Lorraine Guth and Hopeton Bailey and “Tools for Dialogue” with IUP’s Rachel DeSoto-Jackson. The new dates for these events will be announced soon, according to The Elephant in the Room IUP page.
The Elephant’s COVID-19 Diary can be found at