Why San Jose State CDO wants ‘wise feedback’

Kathleen Wong-Lau focuses on recruitment, retention, and promotion of underrepresented faculty

At San Jose State University, one of Chief Diversity Officer Kathleen Wong-Lau’s primary roles is serving as a professional consultant to her colleagues in infusing equity, diversity and inclusion throughout campus operations.

The recruitment, retention, and promotion of underrepresented faculty, including women and educators of color, is one of Wong-Lau’s key roles, particularly in the STEM disciplines.

Wong-Lau, who is a member of the university president’s cabinet, also works closely with the provost’s office and the university’s Center for Faculty Development to provide mandatory training to members of search committees.

This should have a major impact, as San Jose State expects to hire a large number of new faculty in the coming years, Wong-Lau says.

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“In the past diversity was a 20-minute add-on at the end of training,” Wong-Lau says. “Now the entire curriculum is based on bias reduction at every step.”

Equity and inclusion in instruction

At the classroom level, Wong-Lau’s work has included instructing faculty in an inclusive teaching technique called “wise feedback” that’s meant to reduce the potential for interracial conflict.

For example, when a white faculty member assesses a paper written by a minority student, too much praise can seem patronizing to the student while harsh criticism can be construed as racist.

“None of this is happening at the conscious level, but the effect is there,” Wong-Lau says. “And the student’s academic identity is harmed because feedback is not considered valid.”

“Wise feedback” counsels the faculty member to use the student’s name, give blunt, direct feedback and then add an element of praise, such as “I know you’re capable of improving this essay.” This technique increases the chance the work will be resubmitted and that the student will get higher grades and even meet with faculty during office hours, Wong-Lau says.

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Any time Wong-Lau works with faculty or administrators, she makes sure to include the research that validates initiatives such as wise feedback.

“At universities, we’re not really good at using our research on ourselves,” Wong-Lau says.

When it comes to students, she provides leadership and other training to the members of campus success centers and other organizations that represent various cultures and ethnic groups.

“We provide them with opportunities to think about how they work across groups and ally with each other,” Wong-Lau says. “We give them leadership skills in how they can stand their ground in some situations and how they can collaborate in others.”

Click here to find links to other stories in UB’s chief diversity officer series.

Matt Zalaznick is senior writer of UB.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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