For students who have spent much of their lives in static and comfortable environments of predominantly one race and religion, the multicultural medley at the U-M can be confusing, if not overwhelming.
Facilitators for the Program on Intergroup Relations and Conflict presented a panel discussion as part of Martin Luther King Day activities, to tell the University community about dialog groups, courses and mini-courses the program has developed since its inception in 1988.
The program brings together students from two groups such as African American and white students, women and men, gay/lesbian and straight students, or Jewish and African American students. Trained facilitatorseach a member of one of the two student groupsguide the discussions.
It was a really big challenge to create an environment where people felt confident enough to share themselves, said Kevin Madison, an African American student from Atlanta, Ga.
Chad Beyer agreed. Its one thing to bring two groups together and say, Okay, now talk. But theres a lot more involved in getting people to begin a dialog.
Susan Kane, a Jewish student from Cleveland, Ohio, said: If people dont have the tools to reach across the openness, it doesnt matter how many you put together in a room. She also said that it was a great challenge to get white women students to talk about race with African American students.
Theres a lot of fear in just talking about race, she said. Their [white female students] background says that they are just supposed to pretend that there arent any differences, and if you notice there are differences then you are racist.
The eight panelists all agreed that one of the most rewarding things about facilitating the groups is the personal insight they gain about themselves, as well as seeing change in long-held beliefs and attitudes.
All said that they noticed racial tension when they first came to the U-M, and that while the dialog groups, courses, mini-courses and campuswide sessions have helped, the tension remains.
They all agree with the principle of the program, which states that only through systematic instruction about various forms of social conflicts, substantial face-to-face interaction and meaningful dialog among various groups is it possible to promote understanding and to build truly multicultural communities.
And they all want to promote that understanding at the U-M.
The Program in Intergroup Relations and Conflict is located in Alice Lloyd Residence Hall, under the direction of Ximena Zuniga. There are four mini-courses and two courses scheduled for winter term. For more information, call 936-1875.