Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2
(July 2003)

Download our print issue (PDF)
Kellogg Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good: Contributing to the Practice of Democracy
Tribal Colleges and Universities: Guided by Tribal Values
Commitment to Diversity in Institutional Mission Statements
Valuing Equity: Recognizing the Rights of the LGBT Community
Creating Border Crossings: Dickinson College at Home and Abroad
Prejudice Across America: A Nationwide Trek
The Accountability Side of Diversity
Percent Plans: How Successful Are They?
Campus Life for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People
Multimedia, Books and Conferences
The E Pluribus Unum Project

Prejudice Across America: A Nationwide Trek To Learn to See with the Other's Eyes

By James Waller, Lindaman Chair and professor of psychology, Whitworth College
Excerpted, in part, from Prejudice Across America (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2000).

We live in a time of the most dramatic change in the racial background and cultural orientation of our population that we have experienced in our history. The changing face of America is a reality. The issue is not if or when the face of American will change. That change is a given and it is happening now. Rather, the issue is how we will respond to the changing face of America.

How do we embrace diversity in the midst of learning to live as a community? As a college teacher in a field (social psychology) that directly engages this crucial social challenge, I have the obligation to assist my students, most of whom come from white, middle-class backgrounds, to see with the other's eyes. How could I, even for a short time, immerse students in a learning experience that would compel them to see with the other's eyes?

In the fall of 1995, I began to plan a month-long cross-country study tour, "Prejudice Across America," focusing on the history of prejudice and discrimination in America. Study tours are, obviously, nothing new in higher education. A tour on this specific topic, however, that would run literally from coast to coast, was unique. It would be an extraordinary opportunity to move students from the sheltered environment of higher education and to engage them, however temporarily, in the experiences of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in America. I hoped that they would be drawn closer to the daily realities faced by victims of hatred and would more fully realize the persistence of prejudice across America.

The Journey
In January 1996, sixteen students and I met in San Francisco and traveled by rail to Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. At each stop along the way, we heard first-hand from members of various minority groups regarding their history, culture, celebrations, and personal experiences as victims of prejudice and discrimination. I lectured very little on the tour. The direct testimonies of the people with whom we interacted were the key texts of the course.

The students, rapt with attention, finally were able to augment their "classroom" understanding with the authentic face-to-face legacy of prejudice and discrimination. They saw that while the face of hatred may change from generation to generation, the inheritance remains the same--forbidden opportunities, unfulfilled dreams, inner guilt, tension and fear, societal strife, and diminished productivity. Yes, these encounters only gave us a gauzy approximation. However, they did move us closer to seeing with the other's eyes than anything else I had ever done, or seen done, in higher education.

The study tour, repeated (with modifications) biennially is a month-long trip that basks in the vitality of eight great American cities--their history, identity, food, unique challenges, and accomplishments. It also, though, is a journey. A journey to confront issues of race in America. A journey to face our stereotypical thoughts, prejudicial attitudes, and discriminatory behaviors. A journey of introspection and self-discovery in the urban reality of an America where diversity is not simply a buzzword; it is a way of life.

The Preparations
All of the examinations and assignments for the tour are frontloaded into a fall preparation course. Students not only are better prepared for the trip but also are then able to focus on the human experiences of the journey. They can speak with people in the here-and-now rather than passively recording events, quotes, and perspectives from museum placards. Following the tour, the only remaining requirement is the submission of a typewritten copy of their daily journal from the tour.

For the fall preparation course, we meet one hour per week and, consistent with college policy, students receive one academic credit. For the tour itself, they receive three academic credits (equivalent to a standard, non-laboratory semester-length course that meets three hours per week). I warn them ahead of time that the workload in no way corresponds to the academic credits received.

The fall preparation course typically includes four primary readings. The main text, serving as the common thread around which the course is woven is Ronald Takaki's (1993) A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. Since much of the tour focuses on the Civil Rights Movement, students also read Harvard Sitkoff's (1993) The Struggle for Black Equality: 1954-1992. The tour also focuses on one specific religious prejudice--anti-Semitism. So, in anticipation of our visits to the Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in D. C., the students read Elie Wiesel's (1960) Night. Finally, the students read my book, Face to Face: The Changing State of Racism Across America (1998). In addition to the background information students pick up on the psychology of racism, having them read the book provides a starting point from which, if I manage it well, some fruitful discussion can emerge.

Developing Needed Skills
In addition to the four required texts, students keep up with a potpourri of print or electronic articles I forward and several out-of-class film assignments. I also require students to conduct background research on each of the eight cities on the itinerary. This research includes finding one novel or film that would be a good introduction to the city, two "must do" things in the city (other than those on our itinerary), one unique place to eat (unique as in "reflective of area cuisine" not as in "Hard Rock Café"), one relevant Web site, and a brief synopsis of the typical January weather for the city. Finally, students are required to complete two out-of-class essay examinations drawing from course notes and readings.

The fall preparation course unfolds around four objectives. The first objective is building human relations skills. I encourage the students to reclaim the lost skill of listening. Listening requires a submersion of the self and immersion in the other. I also tell the students that our commitment to listen is a commitment to disagree in ways that continue a conversation. When we commit to these skills, we open up avenues of understanding and discovery.

The second objective is increasing self-awareness of our own prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behaviors as well as of our personal histories. Unless we are brutally honest with ourselves, most of us protect our self-esteem by excluding our personal stereotypes, prejudices, and discriminatory behaviors from conscious self-awareness. It is only when we actually engage in personal contact with members of different racial groups that we become aware of our deepest biases.

The third objective is building an awareness of diversity. We systematically explore, in the traditional old-school practice of text analysis and discussion, the culture, language, history, contributions, and sufferings of American Indians, Asian Americans, Blacks, Hispanics, and Jews in this country.

The first three course objectives are the foundational building blocks for our final objective --personal interaction with diversity. I emphasize that the application of our knowledge in the context of personal, face-to-face interaction with diversity is the keynote of the tour. It is why we are traveling cross-country rather than staying in this classroom and interacting with ourselves. I further emphasize that this interaction will not, at times, be comfortable. In the long run, however, it will become, if we allow it, the first step on our journey to see with the other's eyes.

The Tour
The tour focuses on the experiences of five specific minorities in America--Blacks, Asian Americans, Hispanics, Jews, and American Indians. I realize that this omits several significant racial, ethnic, and religious groups that have been victims of prejudice in our country. It also neglects the compelling social issue of sexism. However, I operate on the conviction that if we learn the principles behind prejudice directed at these five specific groups--and learn them well--we can apply many of the same principles to prejudice directed against other groups. I choose to sacrifice breadth for depth in hopes that depth actually provides us with a better ability to broadly apply our learning.

In the most recent iteration of the tour, the eight cities we visited were Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. For the Los Angeles to San Francisco and San Francisco to Chicago legs of the tour, we fly. From Chicago on, however, we ride the rails of Amtrak.

Once we are there, our travel in each city is restricted to public transit. In addition to the obvious cost benefits, riding public transit immerses us in a significant part of the daily life experience of urban America--especially the daily life experience of those living at or below the poverty line. It adds a depth to the increasing realization of the comfort of privilege in which my students live, work, and play.

Lodging in each city is either in low-budget hotels or, preferably, in international youth hostels. The hostels are friendly, accessible, inner-city places--most were apartments or hotels in a former life--that cater to traveling student groups. Each night of the tour includes a required, and often wide-ranging, debriefing where we process our reactions to the day's conversations and events.

The itinerary of the tour evolves from year to year, particularly as I continue to develop a pool of community contacts in each city that can give us--or at least lead us to people who can give us--more authentic, "behind-the-scenes" profiles of cities and communities that we visit. It is these people--at the nexus between diversity and community in America--that form the heart of the tour.

Many of these people speak with us as representatives of their particular organizations--the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (Los Angeles), the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (San Francisco), the Faith Tabernacle Baptist Church (Chicago), and the National Congress of American Indians (Washington, D.C.). In addition, I complement these face-to-face interactions with visits to museums and exhibits that are directly tied to the objective of the tour.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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