Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)




 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish


June 2004

Vol VIII Issue V

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The iSchool’s Diversity Workshop: A Student’s Perspective

By Joshua Daniel Franklin, MLIS Day
On Friday, 7 May 2004, the Information School took the first step in a five-step process of integrating diversity into its curriculum. The Diversity Workshop, which included faculty, staff, and students from every iSchool program, began with a keynote speech by Dr. James Banks of the Center for Multicultural Education in the Hogness Auditorium in Health Sciences. The following is a summary from my perspective as an MLIS student.

Dr. Banks began with three reasons why diversity is essential to our program, and for education in general:

* The "Demographic Imperative": 40% of public school children are "people of color," 20% have primary languages other than English, by 2050 whites will be only 50% of the population, etc. I don't need to tell you that you'll probably live and work in a community that has a significant population with totally different cultural traditions than yours. We need to provide services to these populations.

* Improve the Quality of Education: including a variety of viewpoints creates a multidimensional, interactive educational experience. He mentioned many books throughout his talk such as The Shape of the River by Bok and Bowen. A full list is available on the Curriculum Transformation Project website.

* Americanize America: help our country live up to the ideals in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. We can legitimize and acquire cultural, national, and global identities without balkanization.

Dr. Banks then talked about how diversity can affect "content-based" courses, such as the technology-centered 540 series. While it is important to use examples from a variety of traditions (Content Integration), he noted that many people mistakenly believe this is all that "diversity in education" is. We also need to understand our own biases and how they are constructed, to modify racial/gender attitudes with frank discussion, and facilitate achievement among different groups.

He concluded by saying we need to continually ask ourselves, "Whose story are we telling? To whom are we giving an advantage? Whose interests are being served?" There is always an answer to this question, and too often it is "me and my own."

After Dr. Banks' talk, there was a question and answer time, not all of which I was able to get down in my notes. Hopefully they will be in the web video of the event that is being prepared. A couple of points he made were that no one has only a group identification, but values associated with different groups combined in a unique individual (diversity is not gays vs. blacks vs. women vs. intellectuals – one person could be in many of these groups, but have her own perspectives). Another is that there is a common fallacy among dominant groups (i.e., white people like me) that diversity is about "the other." Dr. Banks mentioned that the first assignment in his Multicultural Education course of mostly white students is a short family history, which demonstrates that we have to be able to know what our own perspective is to understand other perspectives. The purpose is for each person to understand better his or her own identity and heritage and bring that in. Limiting diversity to a "Black Morning" and "Jewish Afternoon" doesn't do anyone any good and can cause resentment.

The workshop then split into groups based on program (Informatics, MLIS, MSIM, PhD, and faculty/staff) and discussed ideas for curricular changes. Our group came up with a few things, like spending more time on the nature of bias in 530, guest speakers (perhaps Melody Ivory-Ndiaye) about accessibility in 540, and teaching us to examine our own bias in 570. We also thought examining our own roots early on, maybe even 500, would be helpful.

After the breakout sessions, all participants gathered back in Hogness Auditorium for a short debriefing. One interesting aspect of the ideas presented is that many of them covered more than just diversity, and would improve the curriculum in general. It might be helpful to workshop the whole iSchool on a regular basis.

The Curriculum Transformation Project will continue for a long time in the future, perhaps beyond the stay of most current students. The toolkit it will produce focuses on faculty, but it is important for us current students as well. We will need similar resources to understand and use diversity in our own jobs and lives, not for its own sake but for the advantages it brings.

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