About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Defining diversity

Karyn Romeis had an interesting post on a "diversity" screening questionnaire she had to take before she would qualify to bid on a job. The problem was that she is a one-person show without any plans of hiring in the future. As a result, she didn't fit the "minority" profile or "diversity" policy need to bid on the job.

This reminded me of my favorite activity I use in all of my classes--the diversity interview. The assignment in in several parts as follows:

. Step I:

Imagine that you want to find a pen pal on the internet. Write a description of yourself in 30 words or less in the space below:

Step II

Locate someone outside of the class to interview that does not match the characteristics you used to describe yourself in step I.

Before interviewing them, reflect on the following questions:

What is your culture? Which groups do you identify with? How does that affect your communication? How does this affect who you speak to and how?
What assumptions do you make about the other person’s culture?
What assumptions do you make about the other person based on their culture?

Step III

Find out the following information in your interview:

What are the perceived similarities between the two cultures?
What are the perceived differences?
How can you tell the difference between a personal belief and a group’s belief?
What is the best way to find out about the culture?
What is the most unfamiliar part of your culture to the person being interviewed? (What do they have trouble understanding about your culture?)
What is the best part of your culture according to the person being interviewed? Why?
Can they give an example of conflict between your culture and their culture? How do they handle that situation?

Step IV

After you have interviewed this person, I want you to reflect on the following questions:

How did your assumptions affect your interview?
Were you able to learn anything new about that person?
What (if anything) surprised you about their answers?

Defining Diversity

In the US (and it appears this might be the case in other countries based on Karyn's post), we define "diversity" as race and gender. I refuse to fill out the little tick boxes about my race and gender that I am asked to fill out when I apply for a job.

What I have found that most of my students identify as their "culture" (which differs from many European and Latin American countries) is based on religion, sexual orientation, generation (age group), socio-economic group (middle class, professional, upper middle class, working class) or ethnic group (i.e. Italian American, Irish American, Latino/a). I found it odd that "white" students were more apt to state their race. In addition to these factors, in our state, location was important. In New York state, there is a definite distinction between the downstate, Long Island, upstate, and Central/western New York cultures. This is played out at the state universities as a large percentage of the upstate colleges are attended by "downstaters".

Also, the campus has a large population of Jews, Muslims, as well as Catholics, East Orthodox, and various christian religions. Sometimes these religious differences do erupt in classes; more so than racial differences. Another source of conflict are differences in urban, suburban, and rural cultures. This is often manifested in divisions between "resident" and "commuter" students. Finally, at the graduate level, there is a divide between international students and "local" students, especially in competition for assistantships.

Many of my students have not looked past the labels used to identify diversity. Often when they report on their interviews, they are surprised to know things about others that they thought they had known already. The most valuable lesson the students identify is not to make assumptions about someone because they are a)known in a social circumstance, b) have similar backgrounds so it is assumed they have similar values or have different backgrounds so it is assumed they will have different values, and 3) it is important to talk to people and ask about their values and beliefs. Not only is this an interesting assignment for me to grade, but many have indicated it is their favorite assignment to conduct.

While a visiting professor at another college, I pushed for the definition of diversity to be expanded. Even though the school was able to recruit faculty of color or those that fell into the traditional categories of race and gender, most had the same philosophy within the departments and were trained at the same 2-3 schools. This led to a myopic or dogmatic approach within each of the departments, making it difficult for others with opposing views to succeed. The expansion of the definition made it possible to recruit those that may have had provocative research or research and teaching that would address the issues for underrepresented populations. The student population began to change as the new professors, regardless of race or gender, gave a broader view that supported many groups.


payton said...

Diversity is the problem I see with the US federal government. As with the example you gave regarding the college, most of the people in the upper echelons of the federal government attended a select few schools. While their "stories" before college are varied, their college expereinces and values are shaped by the same colleges.


V Yonkers said...

That is so true. If you look at the presidential candidates of the three elections, all of them come from ivy league schools. I wonder if President Obama seems more in touch with the "common" people because he attended community college before going on to Columbia?

Often "white males" are put into the same "dominate" culture. However, there are many white males that will never have access to the power that those in power have. This is why I have a problem when "white males" are all grouped together. My husband, with his Italian ancestry giving him a dark complexion, relates to the comments he received as a child when people thought he was Latino. His grandparents had no education (were illiterate when they immigrated to the US) and his mother had to go to work to help support the family at a young age.

While his check box is "white male", he along with millions of other "white males" (including many today of arab dissent) will not have access to the power structures that going to a "good school" or ivy league college provide even those in a minority "catagory".