University News

"Difficult Conversations" Series Continues: Nov. 9 "University Policies/Intercultural Cooperation"

October 31, 2011

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MACOMB, IL – Discussing such issues as equity, social justice and diversity is typically a complex, challenging process that cannot be tackled in a single session. Next week, a session in the "Difficult Conversations" series of informal discussions — which are being held at Western Illinois University to foster conversations about cultural diversity as it is experienced on the WIU campus — will provide the campus community with a second opportunity this semester to talk about the issues that come up when people unfamiliar with each other's backgrounds, values or experiences are asked to work and live side by side. (The first session was held Sept. 28 and the topic covered was the nature of prejudice.)

"Difficult Conversation 2: University Policies and Intercultural Cooperation" is slated for 3:30-5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9, in the University Union Lamoine Room. According to Janice Welsch, WIU professor emerita and co-director of Western's Expanding Cultural Diversity Project, participants will be asked to discuss the connections among Western's commitment to equity, social justice and diversity; the policies that support this commitment; and everyday campus life. Gayle Carper, professor, School of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration, and Tessa Pfafman, assistant professor, communication, are among those who will offer context for this conversation in their brief introductory comments before all participants are asked to discuss the topic in small groups.

"The small-group discussions are the heart of this program," said Welsch. "When evaluating the first conversation of the series, students, faculty and staff responded very positively with such comments as: 'I thought the small group was the best activity. It allowed me to hear peoples' stories that I would not normally have a chance to hear'; 'This gave us the time and space to discuss these issues'; and 'I liked this setting. A small group [makes] speaking up much easier.'"

Welsch added, after the small-group sessions, participants will come together to discuss some of the insights and information that came out of their discussions.

Deb Miretzky, assistant professor of educational and interdisciplinary studies and coordinator of the Difficult Conversations series, noted that misunderstandings between people of different races or ethnicities, or even between males and females, can be real problems.

"America is a country that presents itself as being committed to equal opportunity and fairness and often it is just that, but on the other hand, there is status attached to race and ethnicity and other differences and that can have an impact on what people have access to and what they can do," she added.

Miretzky also noted that housing patterns, traditional perspectives and the media's reliance on stereotypes can undermine attempts to understand one another across cultural lines by limiting opportunities to interact in meaningful ways. The result is often a reluctance to cross those lines because of misinformation or a desire to stay within one's own comfortable cultural environment.

Subsequent topics to be covered in upcoming sessions in the "Difficult Conversations" series at WIU in early 2012 include:

  • "Challenging and Salvaging Situations in the Face of Biased Remarks," Thursday, Feb. 16, University Union Lamoine Room; and
  • "Take a Risk: It's Really OK to Ask Me About __________?" Wednesday, March 28, University Union Lamoine Room.

The series is co-sponsored by the Expanding Cultural Diversity Project, the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Research, the University Diversity Council and the University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100.

For more information, contact Miretzky at (309) 298-1528 or via email at

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