Colette M. Cummings
The following will heighten your awareness of a new and innovative approach to teaching diversity on a college or university campus. Read each paragraph, letting your feelings dictate your response. If you start thinking about all the reasons this course should not work, stop reading until those thoughts and feelings subside. You will be asked to respond orally at the conclusion of the reading.
Consider reversing the dominant method for teaching about diversity related issues at your university. Think of the future of diversity education as courses taught by a team of faculty and student affairs professionals. Feel into that, sense its meaning to you if you are a faculty member, and if you are a student affairs practitioner at this institution. Think of it as always being this way, everyday of your life. Absorb what it tells you about the importance and value of collaboration and student learning.
Imagine that the instructors spend two full days together doing experiential activities and cultural sharing before they begin discussing course content. Imagine that each team member is an equal partner on the team. Each team member brings an area of expertise to the group and all areas are incorporated into a format that will best engage students. Imagine that each team member agrees to step out of their respective comfort zones by leading a section of the course outside of their area of expertise. Imagine the relationship that develops over the course year through weekly meetings, faculty institutes, and mid year planning sessions. Imagine that the course consists of four essential components, text-based lecture and discussion, individual video diaries, group projects, and structured reflection exercises. Each component is integrated into the lesson plan for each class.
The students who take the course are together for an entire academic year. Imagine that the course begins with an overnight retreat that consists of experiential exercises and cultural sharing that facilitates the students and faculty getting to know one another and setting the tone for the year. Imagine that on the second day of the retreat students immediately start working with cameras to get comfortable with them and learn techniques. Imagine that the class meets once a week for four hours.
Imagine that over the course of the year students delve into identity development theory, racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism. Imagine that along with text based lecture each topic is brought to life through experiential activities that force students to step outside their comfort zones and look at the world from other perspectives. Imagine that there is always more content than time and discussion sometimes takes up the majority of the class. Imagine an activity on gender issues that gets students to think about the first time they noticed a difference between boys and girls, or an activity that asks students to adopt a boy and girl and raise them to assume designated careers. Imagine an activity on heterosexism that asks students to imagine a world where the majority of the population is homosexual. Imagine student taking a quiz on classism and completing a class background inventory. Imagine that these activities also serve as vehicles for students and instructors to challenge each other. Imagine that students also view and discuss the content and techniques used in movies and documentaries such as "Celluloid Closet", "Norma Rae", "Hate", "Skin Deep", and "Sixteen in Webster Groves."
Imagine that during the first semester students receive instruction on shooting, lighting techniques, interviewing, and editing video. Over the course of the semester each student writes, shoots, and edits a technically simple, video diary project about an aspect of their personal identity as it relates to an (ism). Picture yourself sitting in a darkened classroom at the end of the semester, as students present their diaries to the rest of the class. Images flash across the screen of students talking about how stereotypes and prejudices personally affect their lives. The video diary topics covered include weight issues, racism, physical ability, and gender among others. Imagine the support and encouragement that each student receives from the rest of the class as they talk about the process they went through in developing their video diary. Imagine the discussion that takes place after all the video diaries are shown.
Imagine that the second semester of the course starts with another overnight retreat. The emphasis of this retreat is to regroup after semester break and prepare students for their group projects. Imagine that students participate in simulations designed to help prepare them for the work ahead. Imagine that over the course of the semester the students work in groups to produce short documentaries about diversity issues that affect their campus. Students gather data and conduct interviews with people on campus to determine possible topics. During the course of the semester, students experience the complexities of working with a diverse group, discussions heat up, tempers flare, feelings get hurt, relationships are strained, and deadlines approach faster and faster.
Imagine that the final day of class arrives. Imagine that students enter the room looking haggard and worn. Many have pulled several very long nights to finish their documentaries. The lights go down and the presentations begin. Images flash across the screen. The students explore issues of racism and lookism on a college campus. The videos are moving, leaving the viewer with more questions than answers. The students' videos will be used as training materials with students, faculty, and staff to explore diversity issues on campus. Imagine how powerful their work is because it shows a student perspective of how the campus community deals with diversity. Imagine how their peers and your colleagues will perceive the documentaries.
Imagine that the lights come on and the students talk about the year in retrospect. It was a long challenging year. Many are not sure if they would do it again if given the chance to repeat the year. They admit to learning new skills and gaining new knowledge about themselves and others. They now see themselves as change agents who will influence their community with the work they produced. They stretched themselves further than they thought possible. They understand the importance of learning about diversity on much deeper level. Imagine them leaving class knowing that they have been changed forever by their experience in this course. Imagine that they know that their learning will continue when they leave. Imagine what you are thinking as you leave this class for the final time. Imagine what you have learned over the course of the year about yourself and about teaching and learning. Imagine that you will never view a class in quite the same way again.
Imagine that this course is a reality. Last year seven colleges and universities participated in the second year of the -ISM (N.) project. The -ISM (N.) Project, sponsored by the Institute for Public Media Arts, is a national education and video project. The purpose of the project is to help strengthen teaching and learning about diversity issues. Each course used video and experiential education as both a tool and medium for teaching. The video dairies and documentaries created during the class will initiate discussion between students, staff, and faculty on campus.
Imagine a course like this at your college or university.
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