On April 10, students in Dr. Mercedes Stephenson’s Introduction to Multicultural Studies class ventured outside their comfort zones for an eye-opening mini-workshop led by the project director for the Anti-Defamation League’s World of Difference Institute Tabari Coleman.
Mr. Coleman frequently travels around the region leading diversity education and training events for the Institute. Dr. Stephenson heard of Mr. Coleman through School of Education instructor Dr. Phil Shayne, who attended one of Mr. Coleman’s presentations at the Missouri History Museum.
“[Dr. Shayne] was so impressed by the talk,” Dr. Stephenson says, “that he invited [Mr. Coleman] to the class we co-teach, Education in a Diverse Society. So, in turn, I was impressed! I decided that his topics would reinforce what we learn in class: American constructions of race, sex and gender, social class, sexual orientation and disability.”
Mr. Coleman began his visit to Introduction to Multicultural Studies by sharing the Anti-Defamation League’s history and the key tenets under which it operates. To help students understand the need for an organization like ADL which, according to their website, “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry in the U.S. and abroad,” Mr. Coleman shared that the state of Missouri contains a large number of active hate groups. The ADL, he explained, combats the message of those hate groups “through information, education, legislation, and advocacy” – methods which include visits to classrooms like Dr. Stephenson’s.
A key element of Mr. Coleman’s presentation was the identity iceberg model – a metaphor for identity which illustrates how our initial impressions of someone might tell us a few things about that person – race, gender, ability – but that the vast majority of someone’s identity –values, preferences, beliefs, family, life experience, etc. – lies below our surface observations. Students participated in an exercise and watched a short video which invited them to examine the conclusions to which they might jump when seeing someone for the first time.
Before wrapping up the workshop, Mr. Coleman shared with students a powerful video, produced by the ADL last year, titled “Imagine a World without Hate.” Several students were moved to tears.
“I think that students were able to reflect on issues of white privilege,” Dr. Stephenson said in response to Mr. Coleman’s presentation. “In every society not all people are aware of how they benefit from certain privileges. Initiating the discussion made all of us learn about these issues, which are of relevance to diverse classrooms.”