Thursday, January 24, 2008

UI Launches Diversity Dialogue Circles

UI Launches Diversity Dialogue Circles

The University of Iowa Women's Resource and Action Center (WRAC) is starting a series of Diversity Dialogue Circles beginning next week. As part of the University's Human Rights Week events, WRAC sponsored a one-night preview of the process Wednesday.

"Iowa is becoming more diverse," noted program coordinator Leslie Leathers. "This will help build relationships and stronger communities."

“I was struck by how involved you were in each other’s lives and you just met each other,” said co-facilitator Tina Hoffman, walking around the room and listening while participants paired off and discusses a cultural check in worksheet that included the ultimate open-ended question, “Who Are You?” The question is meant to get at cultural identity, as one participant discussed her choice of "black" as opposed to "African American." “'Woman' comes out a lot” on that question, said Hoffman.

The project's confidentiality guideline keeps the names out of the story, but most of the 18 or so attendees were young members of various racial and ethnic minorities, with a roughly even gender split.

In the circles, facilitators guide participants in an exploration of privilege, oppression and cultural competency “Instead of looking to get over racism, we need to tol… appreciate our differences.” said one participant. “Why did you stop yourself from saying ‘tolerate’?”, asked Hoffman, which led to a discussion of the difference between mere tolerance and true diversity.

Participants drew parallels between American attitudes toward southern and eastern European immigrants a century ago and attitudes toward Hispanic immigrants today.

“We can say stop being racist but people aren’t going to do it,” said one participant, adding that his view is not pessimistic but realistic and saying our best hope is to affect the people closest to us. “I don’t believe you can change the world.”

Another participant said we need to rethink the definition of what it means to be American: “Trying to get white people to think about what it is like to be NOT white in America is difficult.”

The Dialogue Circles will run for eight weeks, beginning Jan. 31. More information and on-line sign-up materials are available at WRAC's web site.

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