Exposing problems, encouraging changes

Oscar Chicas

This past fall break, while many were relaxing at home, twenty-four brave students remained on campus to participate in the Inaugural ISM Workshop. ISM stands for Integrating Students to Multiculturalism, and the workshop was designed to take students out of their comfort zones and expose to them some of the many facets of multiculturalism that face our world and specifically our university today.

The workshop finds its genesis, development and execution among University students. Administrative council members Sean L. Wright, Christian Brunone, Alana Fares, Sam Salter and Chanelle Case spent hours planning out the four days, which were based upon six Learning Experiences (LEs) integrated with large and small group discussions. Each LE was designed to deal with a specific facet of multiculturalism, and small group facilitators had a set of questions to help focus the discussions.

“My best hope for the workshop is that students will engage themselves fully and come to respect the value of, and the many facets of multiculturalism,” Wright said before the workshop began. “Going along with that, my biggest fear is obviously that students don’t fully participate, thereby failing to get the point of our exercises.”

Ground rules were laid out from the beginning to address the students’ uneasiness about participating. They were based upon respect and listening to others. Most importantly, it was also made clear that participants’ toleration for discomfort would be tested. The ideal was that coming into the workshop with an open mind and an open heart would allow that discomfort to change participants in a positive way.

The first LE dealt with the idea of privilege: the notion that a group of people in power naturally oppresses those who are out of power, whether it is intentional or not. Conducted by Professor Carol Anthony of the Center for Peace and Justice Education, this LE was unique in the sense that it was largely one-way – a lecture, almost.

“Everyone is equal,” she remarked, “But that doesn’t mean everyone is the same.” Rather than using the disparity between us to affect each other negatively – to oppress – we can use the differences to affect each other positively – to impress. But that process begins first, by acknowledging the difference and continues by seeking its value.”

The fourth LE dealt with heterosexism, or, in its more prevalent form, homophobia. On that particular afternoon, many were in tears as the LE chronicled into the life of a homosexual student, from beginning to now. Some cried because they couldn’t believe their fellow human beings have had to go through such trauma; others cried because they have.

“I really don’t get how some people can say that a homosexual lifestyle is a choice,” remarked a sophomore. “Because from what I’ve heard before and what I’ve experienced today, I don’t understand why anyone would actually choose that trauma for themselves.”

Day two ended on a heavy note, but day three began on a somewhat light note. The fifth LE took on the issue of sexism, conducted by Dr. Sheri Bowen, director of the women’s studies program. The nature of this LE brought out the best and the worst of both sexes. The first part of the LE helped to reveal how each sex thinks of the other, in both negative and positive lights. The second half was part-lecture, part-interaction, part discussion, and it showed was that many issues typically associated with one sex, are almost, if not equally, as prevalent for the other sex as well. Issues dealing with sports, appearances and even intelligence were explored equally on both sides. The following large-group discussion touched on a plethora of issues concerning the oppression of one sex by the other. Ultimately, as society continues to evolve, so will the definition of family, and as Dr. Bowen noted, “We will have to decide which traditions are most valuable and worth keeping around, and which must be cast aside in the interest of solving the problem of sexism.”

The sixth and final LE, conducted by the administrative council, cleverly dealt with the issue of racism. It was a bold and shocking look into each person’s reactions to the problem, serving as an allegory for the modern social denial of racism as something requiring a solution.

“I wanted to scream from the beginning of the racism LE,” Ashley Augello, a junior, said. “I couldn’t believe how we carried ourselves, and I felt we were all much stronger in our convictions than we acted.”

“It was a very sad and intense feeling that brought many of us to the verge of tears,” freshman Aaren McLucas said. “What scared us even more was the question: If it was the real world, would we have reacted differently in the situation presented to us? The answer was no, we wouldn’t have.”

The power of the LEs would not have been as poignant without the large and small group discussions that surrounded them.

The discussions and the workshop as a whole allowed the participants to slow down, think about and identify the true problems of classism, heterosexism, homophobia, and racism, and then begin to find their own solutions to each problem. Essentially that was the purpose of the fourth and final day – preceding the traditional concluding rites was a small and large group discussion of what could only be a small sample of small solutions that together, could solve the greater problems on our campus and in the rest of the world.