ATLANTA—Every member of the racially diverse Pryor Road postal station's staff was required to attend a multiculturalism-sensitivity seminar Monday.
"Basically, we addressed key dimensions of diversity and ethnicity that federal employees might encounter," Prism Diversity consultant Brian Leukwick said. "My goal was to reach participants both emotionally and intellectually, while helping them uncover their unwitting preconceived notions about other cultures. The group didn't seem as curious about what I had to say as the staffs in Homerville and Folkston, but I think it went all right."
The workshop was divided into three segments. During the first, Leukwick spoke about himself and how he came to recognize his own hidden biases as a white male.
Mail sorter Juanita Nunez was asked for her opinion of Leukwick's opening remarks.
"Monday my computer was down for two hours," Nunez said. "It was the third time this week, and our sorting unit is still on the fritz four days after it was reported to Central. I'm sorry, did you say you have something you needed to mail?"
The seminar included two video presentations: "A Wider Net Captures Bigger Fish" and "Who Should Be Sitting Next To You?" The videos were followed by a series of guided exercises designed to help participants understand the value of diversity.
"We spent half an hour coming up with phrases that might confuse people who didn't grow up speaking English," Jason Nguyen said. "I didn't grow up speaking English. Here is a phrase that confuses me: 'Why is the front wheelbase on our jeeps narrower than the fucking rear one so we fucking get stuck in the mud every two fucking days?' Management should have a seminar to discuss that."
"I got one, too," LaMont Tibideaux said. "It's, um, 'Could someone please explain the changes to our dental-insurance coverage and why I can't get my kid's teeth fixed until January?'"
Leukwick spent the final portion of the afternoon leading the staff through a series of role-playing exercises in which the postal employees—37 percent African-American, 32 percent Hispanic, and 31 percent other races including Jewish, Haitian, Vietnamese, and Puerto Rican—encountered people of another race or creed.
Mail carrier Casey Lopez-Castro was asked how the exercises helped her to develop her cultural competence.
"We need summer uniforms," Lopez-Castro said. "I'm not doing another August like last year. We ordered our shorts more than a year ago. Where are they? Lost in the mail?"
U.S. Postal Service training director Guy Christman, speaking by phone from Cuthbert, GA, said he arranged for each local postal worker to attend the seminar after he attended a national Postal Service diversity conference last May.
"I found the diversity seminar to be of great value," Christman said. "It awakened me to the plight of the underrepresented minorities. There was a time when a man or a woman could get by without considering the dynamic force of diversity, but not in the modern world. One ignores it at peril of being left behind."
Pryor Road station manager Michael De Leon was required to attend the seminar, as well.
"Hey, I don't like it any more than anyone else," De Leon said. "The head office makes us do these things. I tell my staff, 'Just do what I do: Sneak in a crossword puzzle.' It makes the seminar go a lot faster."
According to Leukwick, employees often resist diversity.
"It's common for people to feel defensive," Leukwick said. "People have trouble listening—I mean really listening—to each other. That's where I come in. Because it's all about communication. If you can't listen in the modern business world, you are doomed."