CLASSROOMS ARE LACKING IN SUBSTANTIAL EXCHANGE OR ENCOUNTERS AMONG
AND BETWEEN STUDENTS. THERE IS NOT MUCH TIME FOR, AND OFTEN LESS
PATIENCE FOR, AN INTERACTIONIST MODEL OF LEARNING. IN CONTRAST,
STILES HALL'S (FACING YOU, FACING ME) IS THE DRAMATIC EXCEPTION.
(THE SEMINAR) PERMITS A KIND OF ONGOING PROBING AND REFLECTION THAT
IS THE FERTILE GROUNDS FOR GENERATING A GENUINE SHIFT IN UNDERSTANDING
AND PERCEPTION." TROY DUSTER, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR THE TEACHING
AND STUDY OF AMERICAN CULTURES AND PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF SOCIOLOGY
AT U.C. BERKELEY.
of California at Berkeley enjoyed a richly diverse student body
in 1987. In spite of this diversity, students tended to interact
primarily with their own ethnic group and the University provided
few, if any, structured opportunities for students to engage in
real, in-depth dialogue about racial, class, and gender differences.
As a result, Stiles Hall, a 117-year-old community service agency
with a historic commitment to racial justice, and the ethnic studies
department agreed to co-sponsor an innovative seminar. In the last
fifteen years, over 1,000 student leaders from exceptionally diverse
backgrounds have participated.
interactive three-hour seminar facilitated by an interracial team
focuses on genuine sharing and learning from each others life
experience in an informal, open setting--something unique to
most students experience. This is the only class Ive
taken thats about me, rather than what I do, wrote one
participant. Indeed, many students stated that it was the
most valuable class they had taken at Cal (U.C. Berkeley).
has consistently drawn one of the most diverse groups of student
leaders anywhere on campus, including four of the last five associated
student presidents, student recruitment and retention center directors,
fraternity and sorority presidents, and numerous other student group
given structured opportunities to get to know each other as individuals
before dealing with each other as members of racial/ethnic/class
groups. These opportunities include in-depth personal introductions
and homework students assign to each other. For example,
the president of a prominent sorority, whose father managed a fruit
packing company, accompanied the son of a farm worker for a day
of work in the fields. Another student might assign a fellow student
to attend her sorority dinner or his gospel church service.
and accompanying homework are at the center of the curriculum. Theoretical
concepts and scholarly research on the issues of race, class, and
gender become a part of the curriculum when students introduce them
from other university courses. In addition, students conduct a large
part of the seminar themselves. Each racial and ethnic group facilitates
an interactive session around their own experiences. Chicano/Latino
students might conduct a role-play of an elementary school class
entirely in Spanish--criticizing those who dont understand
the proceedings and relating this to their own childhood experiences.
Finally, the instructors encourage genuine dialogue using dyads,
small groups, and discussion of readings.
Once the students
have developed a degree of trust and respect across racial, class,
and gender lines, the challenge is to help bring the conflict inherent
in the students different life circumstances out into the
open. Two types of student participants were helpful
in this--students who have personally experienced the oppressive
side of society and those who are clearly from a more privileged,
The first type
was exemplified in one class by the proud, uncompromising presence
of two Native American women who grew up on reservations. Calmly,
but firmly they would state, I grew up surrounded by White
people who were cruel and bigoted towards my people. I dont
trust Whites and am quite suspicious of those who want to help
us. Another example of this were two outspoken African American
students--one of whom saw her sisters starve to death while
she was growing up in Ghana, and the other who watched nearly all
of his West Oakland peers either get killed by police, gangs, and
drugs, or be jailed. They both spoke from the heart and with great
humanity, while remaining uncompromising in shedding light on examples
of institutional and individual racism.
type of student was exemplified by Ex-Governor Wilsons Northern
California Youth Coordinator, who appeared on the Jim Lehrer News
Hour, opposing affirmative action. He was clearly quite privileged,
willing to say honestly what he thought, and yet genuinely open
to other ideas. In the end, he questioned his opposition to affirmative
In sum, in
order to have a genuine exchange, four key elements seem necessary--elements
often missing from structured diversity experiences
1. White students
should be in the minority. People in power typically dont
feel their privilege, and people on the bottom, when
in the minority, dont easily share what they know.
2. Half the
participants should be low-income or working class. Class diversity
is the crucial missing element in most elite university settings.
3. Gender conflict
is the most unifying and safest one to address first. However, sexism
must be addressed seriously.
4. Once racism
by Whites and others against Blacks, in particular, is honestly
confronted, the complexities of other intra- and inter-group prejudice
unique sharing across racial and ethnic lines impressed many faculty
participants. Professor Margaret Wilkerson, chair of the African
American studies department 1989-94, commented, after conducting
some role-plays about interracial dating: I wish we could
clone this class across the campus. David Campt, staff member
of President Clintons Commission on Race, and former co-facilitator
of the seminar, stated, Nowhere else at the university, and
perhaps in the state, have such a diversity of social, socio-economic,
and political student perspectives been engaged in such a profound
The veil of
daily, systematic discrimination experienced by women, working class
people, and people of color is rarely lifted and experienced by
whites, middle class adults and men. We believe that to the degree
that those on both sides of the veil have a genuine, equal exchange,
they will become more competent, alive and human for the encounter.
It is out of these beliefs that we developed the seminar.
For more information
Learning occurs in the classroom,
in student living situations, and perhaps most powerfully, it
occurs when students are able to see firsthand the connections
between their classroom instruction and
their real world experiences.