What Does It Mean to Teach Diversity in Rural Minnesota
By Anne J. Aby, History and Political Science Instructor, Worthington Community College
Worthington Community College (WCC) is located on a windswept prairie in Worthington, Minnesota, a community of about ten thousand people located 180 miles southwest of Minneapolis and about sixty-five miles east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. While one might assume that the area is quite homogeneous, new waves of immigration, largely fueled by the prospect of employment at the local meat-packing plants, are dramatically changing the local region. Once dominated by largely Scandinavian ethnic groups, about 20 percent of the current population consists of new immigrants, including those from Mexico, Southeast Asia, and the Sudan. While many might assume that the region lacks racial/ethnic diversity, diversity is, in fact, all around our campus.
Recently mandated campus mergers and a shift from quarters to semesters have provided both the opportunity and the incentive for rethinking the curriculum, including its inclusion of diversity issues. Because of a new statewide transfer curriculum, all public institutions of higher learning in Minnesota share a U.S. diversity requirement which contains specific goals and competencies. As a result, diversity issues dealing with race, class, and gender are now represented in many of our course offerings even at this fairly racially homogenous college located in a demographically changing region.
I teach an average of twelve different history and political science courses each year and most of my graduate work was completed at least twenty-five years ago, long before diversity was considered an important part of the curriculum. I have found, however, that participation in recent curriculum transformation projects has greatly revitalized my teaching and given me new insights into what diversity means for the nation and for southwest Minnesota.
Despite some people's skepticism, it is possible to integrate issues of diversity into the curriculum in ways that students find relevant to their own lives and the local region. In a U.S. history course, when looking at Wilson's foreign policy and the Mexican Revolution, we examine Mexican experiences and perspectives and can relate them to the experiences of more recent Mexican immigrants to Minnesota. When studying the homefront during World War I, we relate antiGerman-American discrimination in the local region that included acts such as tarring and feathering to more recent instances of prejudice and discrimination against immigrant groups in the area and across the country. It is possible even in a relatively racially homogenous classroom to begin by addressing diversity issues like class, gender, or sexual orientation--issues about which students more viscerally and immediately see personal relevance--before broadening discussion to other diversity issues that they may, at first, perceive to be unrelated to their lives.
Even in rural Minnesota students need to understand how diversity issues have affected our country's history and also how they are still vital to the nature of their own identities and communities.