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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
May 8, 2007
DeKalb — In the 13 years since Northern Illinois University launched the Multicultural Curriculum Transformation Institute, nearly 200 courses have been reborn.
But the need for the annual institute and its work remains as critical as ever.
Michael Gonzales, who helped to create MCTI in 1994 and is chair of this year’s task force, says college courses that skirt issues of multiculturalism are “dated.”
Multiculturalism is the inclusion of scholarship, theory, concept and fact of cultures that historically have been under-represented in all educational arenas.
“For example, because of the nature of the current Middle Eastern conflict, we need to know more about Islam,” Gonzales says. “One of the things we’ve tried to do in the institute in recent years is to provide a forum to communicate some of the cultural and religious values of Muslim students that you many need to know as an instructor.”
The answer is simpler than knowing the Koran or the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, he says. It is important to know, for example, something about the dates of important religious holidays and issues of appropriate dress.
“I don’t think it’s about political correctness at all,” he says. “It’s about being a responsible instructor. If you want to be effective in the classroom, you have to be able to communicate with all of your students.”
NIU’s 14th Multicultural Curriculum Transformation Institute, scheduled for next week, features keynote speaker Barbara Love. All panel sessions are open to the public.
Love, a professor of education who specializes in social justice facilitation and design at the Amherst campus of University of Massachusetts, speaks from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1:15 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, in the Heritage Room of the Holmes Student Center.
A DVD presentation of “Mirrors of Privilege” is scheduled for 1:15 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, in the Heritage Room.
Other open sessions in the Heritage Room include:
Closed sessions challenge each participant to weave the ideals of multiculturalism and the lessons of the panels into a syllabus he or she brought.
“We give them the opportunity to hear directly from students from a variety of diverse backgrounds regarding their experiences in NIU classrooms,” Gonzales says, “and we create safe environments for people to have frank discussions with one another and to exchange ideas about their experiences.”
Robin Moremen, director of undergraduate studies in NIU’s Department of Sociology, says the institute “is a grassroots effort to reach students through the faculty.”
Faculty who willingly embrace the need to see diversity and multiculturalism as important issues will pass that on to their students, Moremen says.
“The feedback we’ve gotten from the faculty participants is that they did not always have an idea about the magnitude of the impact they’ve had by transforming their courses until they actually engaged in the process,” she adds.
“They found the students were more engaged in the material. More students were able to recognize issues related to them. White middle-class students were brought to a greater sense of understanding. The more exposure they have to a multicultural curriculum, the more prepared they’re going to be to deal with 21st century society.”
Moremen has been involved for more than a decade as a participant, a presenter and a task force member.
“I am a middle-class, educated white woman who feels that one of the important issues that needs to be addressed is making other people from backgrounds similar to mine realize how important it is not only to see the disadvantage and the oppression that many people from minority backgrounds have,” she says, “but also how people like myself benefit from white skin color privilege, from social class privilege, from education privilege. By not recognizing systems of dominance we maintain systems of oppression.”
Gonzales, who is director of Latino and Latin American Studies, says the institute appeals to a wide variety of faculty. Even professors outside the humanities and social sciences have students and colleagues from diverse backgrounds, he says.
All participants must give presentations in the fall on the course transformations.
“When I go to those and hear someone say, ‘Well, this has made me a better teacher,’ or ‘I’ve gotten so many good ideas about how to improve my course’ or ‘I’ve gotten inspiration on how to create a new course,’ that for me is very important,” Gonzales says.
“There are also instances when colleagues have said that participating in the institute has caused them to think more introspectively about fundamental questions of race, culture and gender,” he adds. “When people say those kinds of things, it’s very satisfying.”
This year’s participants, who will receive $1,000 each upon completion of the institute and the demonstrated transformation of their courses, are:
For more information, call (815) 753-8557 or visit http://www.niu.edu/mcti.
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