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Lunchtime diversity meeting explores US racism and stereotypes

Submitted by Pauline Mothu on February 12, 2014 – 5:33 pm2 Comments

Courtesy of UALR

During the first Thursday of each month, the UALR Diversity Council organizes “Brown Bag Lunch and Learn” to bring awareness about diversity-related issues. This month’s meeting, entitled “Power, and Language, and Bias, Oh My!” occurred on Thursday, Feb. 6 in room G, Donaghey Student Center.

Sharon Downs, director of the Disability Resource Center and the event’s keynote speaker, spoke about the hazards of stereotypes, bias, and the impact of language in shaping public opinion. In addition, the audience watched the short film “Clown”.

The film follows the lives of three “Clown-Americans” who are facing stereotypes from others. Through these clowns, the film explores and eliminates the realities of bias and racism in America. One of the clowns is a doctor and talks about what he experiences for being different; for instance, some patients would want a “real” doctor instead despite his experiences. His son also experiences prejudices at his school for being different from the other kids. The film also features prejudice and stereotypes among the minorities with the story of a clown marrying a mime, causing misunderstanding among his family.

The film was followed by a discussion between Downs and the audience. The group explored the reasons why prejudice, stereotypes, and bias exist as well as how to address them. The discussion indicated that, although we all experience this at some point, we tend to get defensive when topics such as power and privilege are brought up in conversation. Moreover, when someone is different, people are uncomfortable with them and, unfortunately, this is a learned behavior.

The best thing to do to address this topic is to talk about it, but not in a hurtful and blaming way. “Saying to someone that what he said was hurtful to us is better than saying ‘watch your language.’ Things will not get better if we do not talk about them,” Downs said.

“The role [of the Diversity Council] is helping promote dialogue, enhancing understanding, and fostering respect as well as giving voice to the UALR community about diversity-related issues,” said Diversity Council Co-Chairman John Miller. The council is also composed of faculty and staff from different backgrounds and experiences.

Each “Brown Bag Lunch and Learn” consists of a presentation followed by a discussion between the audience and featured speaker. Diversity issues include ethnicity and race, but also disability, gender, and age.

Everyone faces stereotypes, and the UALR community is no exception. The DC conducted a study last spring about perceptions of diversity and diversity-related experiences at UALR. The survey showed that, although faculty, staff and students express a high level of comfort interacting with disabled, gay and different-raced people, 15 percent of students expressed unfair treatment based on their difference—mainly race.

Moreover, 25 percent of the faculty and staff have experienced unfair treatment based upon gender or race. The survey also mentions that one out of five students does not know where to go to report these issues. Should they go to the Dean of Students? Tell a professor? Or a counselor?

Downs said that she and Miller hope “Lunch and Learn” will help to “inform people about stereotypes, the power of language, as well as our [the UALR community] role in addressing the issue.” Downs also wants students to know “we don’t need to be part of the minority to be concerned and involved with diversity-related issues.”

“I am concerned with LGBT rights, even though I am not part of this community,” she said. “Changing things requires the involvement of everyone.”

The Diversity Council was founded nearly two years ago and has accomplished a lot already, according to Downs.

“It is great,” Miller said. “But I’m a dreamer. I want great things to happen at UALR, especially when it involves diversity-related issues.”

The “Brown Bag and Lunch” event occurs every first Thursday of each month in the Donaghey Student Center, room G. Everyone is welcomed to attend and participate in the discussion, as it help the Diversity Council to improve the issues discussed. Students, faculty, and staff are also welcomed and encouraged to make a proposal through the UALR website www.ualr.edu/chancellor/diversity/proposal-form. The different ideas are then discussed among the Diversity Council members and one is chosen.

The UALR community is encouraged to do so because the Diversity Council wants to discuss issues students, faculty, and staff are interested and concerned about.

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