The University Record, July 22, 1998

CRLT hosts program on multiculturalism

By Joel Seguine
News and Information Services

Multiculturalism is a watchword on campuses across the country. But how does the concept become part of the fabric of an academic community? How does it become part of each student's learning experience as she or he prepares to become a participant in contemporary society?

These difficult questions formed the basis for "Building Multiculturalism into Faculty Development," an intensive institute June 21-24 that brought together specialists in the advancement of teaching, researchers, deans, provosts, directors of multicultural programs and faculty members.

Presented by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) and the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE), the institute was "one of the few conferences in the country relating to multiculturalism designed to look at ways to help faculty members respond effectively to diverse cultures, ideas and perspectives of the students they teach," according to Diana Kardia, instructional consultant and assistant research scientist at CRLT who organized the institute.

Topics included an overview of multiculturalism on the nation's campuses, presentations about the impact the life and career experiences of faculty members and those involved in faculty development have on advancing multiculturalism, and opportunities for participants to consult about their particular situations.

Sylvia Hurtado, associate professor of education, and David Schoem, LS&A assistant dean for undergraduate education, teamed up in the overview session to put the institute's topic in perspective. Hurtado provided demographic data to show the growing diversity of college student populations. She said research indicates that "first-year students tend to not be accustomed to interacting with others from diverse backgrounds and may, in fact, be encountering multiculturalism for the first time in college."

Because so many of today's students spend little time on campus, especially those who commute, "there will have to be a dependence on the classroom experience to prepare students for participation in a more complex, diverse society," Hurtado said. "Among the skills faculty need to develop in this environment is handling the inevitable misunderstanding, tension and conflict that will arise," she said.

Schoem led a group reading of "Let America Be America Again" by Langston Hughes. To Schoem, the poem speaks of a vision of America, that leads to such questions as, What is our vision of a diverse campus, a diverse classroom? For how many has the classroom been a safe place to share ideas with people who are diverse in their backgrounds? How does America become a democracy for all? "That's the challenge of the day," he said.

"During the next three days participants worked and learned together in the midst of their differences," Kardia explained. "The group worked on a definition of 'multiculturalism' not through consensus, but by exploring both similarities and tensions among differing assumptions and perspectives from our individual experiences. That effort," she said, "led, among several outcomes, to an exploration of how to create a community of trust and safety for students and faculty to work through issues of diversity, a community of people rather than just minds."

CRLT Director Constance Cook was pleased with the institute's outcome. "It was exciting to have faculty and administrators from all over the country who brought with them a wide array of skills and experiences and a commitment to infusing multiculturalism into pedagogy and curriculum," she said. "It was a richly rewarding experience, and we learned as much from the participants as they learned from us."

Jan Lee, associate professor of nursing and interim associate dean for academic affairs, was glad she attended part of the institute. "I found every session, every speaker, every activity, every discussion thought-provoking and insightful."