Dealing with Difference Institute

Initiative History

In 1988, Drs. J.Q. Adams (Education) and James Niss (Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning) were awarded a Higher Education Cooperation Act (HECA) grant from Illinois State Board of Higher Education (ISHE) for their proposal titled “Expanding Cultural Diversity in the Curriculum and the Classroom.” Adams and Ness designed programming for faculty and staff around cultural diversity and pedagogical practices. The multi-year grant continued after Niss retired, with Dr. Janice Welsch (English) taking on the role of grant co-director. After the initial ten-year support of the HECA grant, IBHE supported the Expanding Cultural Diversity Project (ECDP) in WIU’s general budget as recognition of both the importance of the project and of WIU’s ability to carry it forward. 

The goals for ECDP 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 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.

After the retirements of Adams and Welsch, Drs. Jim La Prad (Education) and Rebekah Buchanan (English) took over as co-directors of ECDP. Due to changes in the budget from IBHE and the campus and community needs, ECDP has now become the Initiative for Social Justice Pedagogies (ISJP) with a focus on faculty support and curriculum development around justice issues. Some programs such as the Dealing with Difference Institute and the Speakers Series continue, with others such as Book Discussions and Inquiry Series being added to better support racial justice work in light of the current racial climate. 



Anti-Racist Inquiry Series

ISJP hosts a six-part discussion series over the course of the semester where participants engage with a short reading, podcast, or video aimed to start a conversation around race, racism, and working toward anti-racist pedagogies and practices. Participants engage in the session’s focus piece and guiding questions prior to each discussion. Discussions are facilitated to allow all participants to wrestle with the topics, reflect on the texts and experiences, and commit to actionable changes—small or large—each session

Book Series

Every semester ISJP hosts a reading series that focuses on a current text addressing social justice issues. Book discussions are open to the university community as well as the surrounding community. University faculty and staff are encouraged to not only participate in the semester book series, but also facilitate a series based on their own reading and research interests. 

Dealing with Difference Institute (DWID)

Since 1994, the Dealing with Difference Institute (DWDI) has offered WIU faculty, staff and students as well as educators from across the region and the state, opportunities to discuss a wide range of topics related to cultural diversity and social justice.

Issues of race/ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation have been embedded in each of the institutes while themes such as identity development, media representation, multicultural consciousness, white privilege, anti-racist activism, intercultural communication, the uses and abuses of fear in a culturally diverse world, multiculturalism vs. assimilation, and nonviolent strategies for social transformation have been explored from multiple perspectives and through various conference formats. Pragmatic instruction strategies have been interwoven with theoretical constructs in each of the institutes; innovative approaches have been introduced; and early takes on multicultural education have been examined and re-examined as the field has evolved and educators have sought to develop cultural competency skills without losing sight of social justice issues.

DWDI speakers have included national and international as well as local and regional scholars and activists. Among the most widely recognized are Dr. Peggy McIntosh, author of one of the very earliest articles on white privilege; Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, psychology professor and current president of Spellman College; Dr. James Banks, founding director of the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington; Dr. Paul Gorski, founder of several online social justice resource centers;Dr. Pedro Noguera, national K-12 educational equity policy advocate; and Rosa Clemente, a community organizer, journalist, and hip-hop scholar-activist.

Faculty Spotlight

Each semester ISJP hosts a presentation by WIU faculty who have recently published on issues related to social justice. Faculty present their work in a more informal setting allowing for discussion and community building. Faculty interested in having their work as part of the Spotlight Series should contact ISJP for inclusion on the calendar. 

Speaker Series 

In order to provide ongoing opportunities for the entire WIU community throughout the academic year, the ISJP Speaker Series sponsors presentations and workshops by leaders in social justice and equity education who come from a variety of disciplines. In addition to presentations and workshops, ISJP has conducted recorded interviews with speakers which are available through the WIU YouTube Channel.  



Difficult Conversations 

Started in 2011, Difficult Conversations 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. Participants took active part in small group discussion around each topic learning from other participants. Some conversations focused on important national events as Ferguson: Does it Matter?, September 18, 2014 and Charlottesville: Why It Matters, September 13, 2017.  

Multicultural Resource and Advising Center

The Multicultural Resource and Advising Center (1995-2013) provided access to publications and other media produced through the ECDP in addition to a wide variety of other books, videos and DVDs that faculty and staff used to deepen their own understanding of diversity, cultural competency, and social justice or use in their work with students. It worked toward 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 a dinner/discussion evening to bring faculty and staff together in an informal setting to socialize and learn.

Publications and Productions

During the first eight years of funding, ECDP published eight anthologies. The first four,  Multicultural Education Strategies for Implementation in Colleges and Universities, Volumes 1-4 (1995)  were collections of essays while three,  Multicultural Prism: Voices from the Field, Volumes 1-3,  (1994) were handbooks that brought together syllabi from multiple disciplines. The eighth,  Cultural Diversity: Curriculum, Classroom, and Climate (1999) ,  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.