Western Illinois University: Macomb Campus
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Dealing with Difference Institute
The most recent ECDP initiative, the Difficult Conversation Series, focuses on diversity issues people generally find hard to discuss. The program began in September 2011 with Dr. Debra Miretzky, Educational and Interdisciplinary Studies, assuming much of the responsibility for it. It has provided faculty, staff and students with opportunities to talk about some of the issues that often inhibit interaction and cooperation among colleagues and peers who are unfamiliar with each other’s values and perspectives. Since small-group discussions are the heart of the Difficult Conversations, participants are expected to take an active part in each conversation.
Though the similarities among humans far outweigh the differences, the differences can short-circuit communication and interaction and make cooperation difficult. Misunderstandings between those of different races/ethnicities or genders can be especially problematic. The United States takes pride in its commitment to equal opportunity and democracy, but struggles related to the status attached to race/ethnicity, gender and other differences are evident and can have a significant impact on the privileges and opportunities individuals can access.
Despite efforts to level the playing field, housing patterns, traditional perspectives, the media’s reliance on stereotypes, and other social factors can undermine attempts to understand one another across cultural lines by limiting opportunities to interact in meaningful ways. The result often is a reluctance to cross those lines because of misinformation or a desire to stay within one’s own comfortable cultural environment. Much can be gained when individuals do cross the lines, however, and the Expanding Cultural Diversity Project initiated the DifCon series with that in mind. Co-sponsors include the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Research, the University Diversity Council, and the University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100.
The topics for the 2012-2013 DifCon Series are self-segregation on campus (September 26), clashing ideas and values that create tension in classrooms (November 7), differing perceptions of privilege and power (February 6), and pressures to identify as “male” or “female” in a world of more complex gender categories (March 27). Brief introductions, facilitators at each table, and questions about the topics help stimulate discussion, but participants determine their direction.