The University Record, January 24, 1994

Video enlightens ULAM staff

By Janet Mendler
News and Information Services

“Those” is an adjective that leads almost automatically to stereotyping, and is a word that should be used with utmost care, Daniel H. Ringler, told a group of staff members of the Unit of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ULAM) during one of its programs commemorating the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr.

“We learn and grow as we go along,” said Ringler, ULAM’s director. “I want this unit to be one where everyone feels comfortable. When we start talking about ‘those people’, we’re using divisive language.”

Centerpiece of the ULAM program was the video, “Increasing Your Comfort Around Diverse People: Firsthand Tips from Those Who Are!”

Discussion leader Leslie Stambaugh, a Medical Center human resource development consultant, first asked the group of 50 to change seats. “Too many of you wearing blue are sitting together,” a situation she termed comfortable and natural, but not designed to foster diversity. “Sit with people you don’t know,” she urged.

“We’re here to honor and remember a great man, to offer a status check on the civil rights ideals he espoused, and to acknowledge and appreciate the diversity that we all bring to the workplace and the community,” Stambaugh said.

The two-part video highlighted “life experiences” of, among others, Blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Native Americans, persons with disabilities, a gay male, a lesbian, and older men and women.

All talked about the social, cultural and work-related difficulties and acts of discrimination they encounter, and actions their friends and co-workers can take to support equality.

The ULAM staff broke into small groups to discuss each video segment, and later reported their findings.

“Our group was amazed at the unemployment figures for the disabled, and the architectural obstacles they have to overcome once they are employed,” noted one discussion group spokesperson. He referred to a stockbroker’s account of waiting up to two hours for a handicapped-accessible bus, having to take a freight elevator to his 17th floor office, and traveling 10 floors to find a handicapped-accessible restroom.

What types of action can individuals take to support equality?

Stambaugh said one of the most important is recognizing personal prejudices. Many people simply aren’t as sensitive as they could be to hurtful language and actions. More people need to speak out against and interrupt discriminatory acts, conversations, jokes and behavior.

Simply showing interest in the lives of others may lead to accepting views, ideas, perspectives and feelings of people different from ourselves.

“If any of us feel uncomfortable,” Stambaugh said, “then all of us hurt.”