Dealing with Difference Institute

Project History

It was almost twenty-five years ago that Dr. J. Q. Adams arrived on campus. The year was 1988 and Dr. Adams had accepted a position in Western’s Educational Foundations Department, now the Department of Educational and Interdisciplinary Studies. Very shortly after his arrival, he began working with Dr. James Niss, the Director of Faculty Development (now the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning) as the Multicultural Education Associate. Among the earliest projects he began working on were a series of lectures and workshops led by prominent scholars in multicultural education and a grant proposal, developed with Dr. Niss and directed toward a new program initiated by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) called the Higher Education Cooperation Act (HECA). Drs. Adams and Niss titled their proposal “Expanding Cultural Diversity in the Curriculum and in the Classroom.” When Dr. Niss retired Dr. Janice Welsch took on his role as co-director of the grant.

Clearly, the cultural diversity among students as well as faculty and staff in higher education was changing—as was the nation at large--and called for greater understanding of diverse cultural traditions, values, and perspectives to insure successful communication and interaction among all of Western’s constituents. The IBHE understood this, as did the WIU campus community. As a result, the IBHE awarded WIU a HECA grant each year for ten years. It then notified WIU that it would continue to support the Expanding Cultural Diversity Project, as the initiative came to be called, not through individual yearly grants but by transferring the amount of the grants ($50,000) to Western’s annual general budget, recognition of both the importance of the project and of WIU’s ability to carry it forward.

The goals for the Expanding Cultural Diversity Project have evolved over time, with greater emphasis put on social justice perspectives as WIU’s faculty and staff became more familiar with multicultural concepts, but consistently stressing awareness and understanding of cultural diversity and its relevance within every classroom, office, and residence hall on campus. To accomplish these goals the ECDP has offered a variety of programs and other assistance that deepen understanding of different cultures and cultural values, promote effective communication across cultures, and suggest ways to implement cultural diversity initiatives within each person’s spheres of influence. Helping faculty integrate cultural information and insights into their curriculum and classroom practices has been a primary objective since such knowledge has become increasingly important to students.

Dealing with Difference Institute

The most visible of the programs the ECDP has developed is probably the Dealing with Difference Institute (DWDI). Though the length and format of the DWDI has changed somewhat over its 20-year existence, its focus has always been on cultural diversity and its significance in education. Within this broad focus, the institute has revolved around various themes, among them race/ethnicity (with separate institutes on African, Arab and Middle Eastern, Asian, Latino/a, and Native Americans, though European American cultures have been a constant), gender, class, sexual orientation, disability, privilege, identity development, Paulo Freire’s educational philosophy, media, intercultural communication, interactive learning, the uses and abuses of fear, nonviolent social action, and multiculturalism vs. assimilation.

DWDI speakers have included national and international as well as local and regional scholars and activists. Among the most widely recognized are African American International Grand Master of Chess Mr. Maurice Ashley, who uses chess to help at-risk youth;Dr. Sut Jhally, founder and executive director of the Educational Media Foundation; Dr. Peggy McIntosh, author of one of the very earliest articles on white privilege; Dr. Jack Shaheen, author of Reel Bad Arabs, an analysis of the representation of Arabs and Muslims in Hollywood films; Dr. Garry Shirts, creator of BaFa BaFa an interactive game that simulates the challenges of intercultural communication; Dr. Christine Sleeter, co-author of Teaching with Vision and Critical Multiculturalism: Theory and Praxis; and Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, psychology professor and current president of Spellman College;  Dr. James A. Banks, Founding Director of the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington, Seattle; Dr. Paul Gorski, founder of several online social justice resource centers; Dr. Ann Russo, chair of Women and Gender Studies at DePaul University; and Dr. Barbara Ransby, Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, History, and African American Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago; Rosa Clemente, President and Founder of Know Thy Self Productions, leading scholar on the issues of Afro-Latinx identity, and well-known activist.  Without exception, the speakers have incorporated Q&A and discussion into their sessions, with some integrating other interactive and experiential exercises as well.

Speaker Series 

To reach a larger number of students than possible during the mid-May DWDIs and to provide ongoing opportunities for the entire WIU community to benefit from the research of scholars and the experience of a variety of people in multicultural education, the ECDP sponsors presentations and workshops by leaders in social justice and equity education who come from a variety of disciplines including anthropology (the late Dr. John Ogbu), counseling (Dr. Thomas Parham), Latino/a studies (Dr. Jeanett Castellanos), Native American studies and education (Dr. Joel Spring), psychology (Dr. Laurence Steinberg), public policy and educational policy (Dr. Antonia Darder and Dr. Gary Orfield), sociology (Dr. Troy Duster), and Ms. Janice Mandell (theatre).

Since 2005, many of these educators have not only given presentations or facilitated workshops on WIU’s Macomb or Quad Cities campus but have also agreed to have their presentations taped and made available to WIU personnel via the library and Multicultural Resource Center. In addition, ECDP funds have made it possible to develop and distribute a series of interviews with a wide range of cultural diversity scholars: Dr. James A. Banks, recognized as the “Father of Multicultural Education”; Dr. Shakti Butler, director of Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity; cultural critic Dr. Henry Giroux, author of over fifty books including Disposable Youth, Racialized Memories, and the Culture of Cruelty; Dr. Paul Gorski, associate professor of Integrative Studies at George Mason University; Dr. Heather Hackman, social justice consultant and educator; Dr. Maulana Karenga, author of works on classical African ethics and Black studies;Dr. Pedro Noguera, urban sociologist, educator, and author; historian Ronald Takaki (now diseased), author of A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America; Dr. C. T. Vivian, Civil Rights Movement leader and proponent of nonviolent social engagement; and Mr. Tim Wise, lecturer, activist, and author whose latest book is Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority. Dr. Adams has conducted the interviews.

Difficult Conversations

The most recent program initiated by the ECDP is a series of informal discussions to foster conversations about cultural diversity as it is experienced at WIU. The program began in  2011 with Dr. Debra Miretzky  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 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.

The  2013-2014 Difficult Conversations topics are destructive social media networking (Sept. 25, 2013), urban/rural stereotyping on campus (Nov. 6, 2013) and off campus (Feb. 5, 2014), and the value and challenge of empathy (Mar. 26, 2014).

Publications and Productions

In retrospect, what appears to be a remarkably ambitious aspect of the ECDP during the first eight years of funding was the publication of eight anthologies. The first four, Multicultural Education: Strategies for Implementation in Colleges and Universities, Volumes 1-4 were collections of essays while three, Multicultural Prism: Voices from the Field, Volumes 1-3, were handbooks that brought together syllabi from multiple disciplines. The eighth, Cultural Diversity: Curriculum, Classroom, and Climate, comprised representative articles from previous volumes supplemented by new essays to insure relatively comprehensive coverage of multicultural issues. Authors included many Western colleagues as well as educators from across the nation.

Grant funding also made possible the production of several other media projects: a CD-Rom, Multicultural Prism: Diversity in the Curriculum; two videotapes, Multicultural Prism: Voices from the Field, that featured well established and respected leaders in multicultural education and complemented the Multicultural Prism anthologies, and A Pedagogy of Place: Little Singer Community School, Navajo Nation; and a set of four DVDs, Effective Strategies for Learning and Teaching about Diversity in the U.S.A, that comprised a course taught by Dr. Adams.

Through press releases, newspaper coverage, television coverage, WIUM-FM's Emphasis program, and the DVDs, the impact of these speakers has been expanded beyond a particular time and place. One response to the Channel 3 broadcast of Dr. Thomas Parham's presentation, for example, came in the form of an email note to Dr. Adams from a graduate student who indicated that "the information presented was extremely insightful, helping us both identify and clarify the position that we are currently in as African-American students striving for success. . . . 

Multicultural Resource and Advising Center

The publications and other media produced through the ECDP are available through the Multicultural Resource and Advising Center, as are a wide variety of other books, videos and DVDs that faculty and staff can use to deepen their own understanding of diversity, cultural competency, and social justice or use in their work with students. 

The ECDP provided the impetus that led to the development of the multicultural requirement in General Education, the Group Diversity course as a core course within a multicultural curriculum, issue-specific diversity workshops for individual departments and offices, and  the Cultural Diversity Cadre, which once a semester sponsored dinner/discussion evenings to bring faculty and staff together in an informal setting to socialize and learn.

That the ECDP was created and continues to exist reflects the support of WIU presidents and provosts, deans and directors, and individual faculty and staff, their recognition of its value, and their commitment to the “justice, equity and diversity” WIU has identified as part of its mission.