Dialogue and Diversity

Minorities, visible and invisible, deserve empathy

Put yourself in their place

Diversity workshop

"Internal dialogue is where your true power is," Patricia Bernier told participants in a workshop for employees on dealing with human diversity. Bernier runs a business called Consult-Action.

by Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins

It was back to class for Concordia's staff and faculty January 24 to 28, as the School of Graduate Studies presented a series of lectures and workshops on the theme of Dialogue and Diversity. The sessions were geared to help employees better understand how to serve Concordia's cosmopolitan clientele.

At a workshop titled The Many Faces of Diversity: Teaching for Inclusivity, Olivia Rovinescu, Co-ordinator of Concordia's Centre for Teaching and Learning, told participants that diversity isn't always obvious. Minorities of ethnic, cultural, class backgrounds or sexual orientations can be invisible, as can students with learning disabilities.

Encouraging students to share their life stories, when appropriate, is a good way to achieve empathy. "When people talk about who they are and where they come from, that's how we can begin changing [stereotypes.]"

Educators should realize that some students don't respond well to Western teaching modes. "There are other ways of knowing," Rovinescu said.

Students learn differently, too.. Some are visual, while others are auditory. They may be left- or right-brained, which some experts say emphasizes different modes of perception. Some students can sit through 90-minute lectures, while others can't. Some can take reams of notes, but others can't follow a lecture and write at the same time. That's why it's essential for professors "to make as many allowances for different styles of learning."

These can include overhead presentations, videos, sound clips -- whatever is needed for students to best absorb the material. Professors can prepare students for their own teaching style by specifying, at the start of the semester, how they plan to proceed. "It's good to say what kind of teaching style you have and where you and students can meet," she said.

At a second workshop called Inclusivity on the Frontline, some 50 staff members learned how to serve their clientele through role-playing and motivational talks. Cybil Lewis, a staff member at the Black Community Resource Centre, Patricia Bernier, president of a human resources and management training firm, Dave McKenzie, Concordia's recruitment officer in the black community, and Brenda Rowe, Co-ordinator of Concordia's Centre for Native Education, led the discussions.

Lewis said it's important to remember that diversity is inclusive, not exclusive. "Be patient, learn about different cultures, don't create barriers, be open and be aware of your own patterns," she advised.

Bernier said that empathy goes a long way. Staff need to remind themselves "that we are all unique, and therefore different." Some differences can be seen immediately, others later. Sometimes diversity can even "put us off-balance."

Bernier said people need to build bridges to one another, and the first step is to "know thyself. You are the only stimulus that elicits a response," she said. "The only person you have control over is you."

In every situation, events occur simultaneously on emotional and rational levels. When confronted with differences, it is critical to wait before reacting, "even if it's milliseconds," she said. "Internal dialogue is where your true power is.

"Each of us sees the world not as it is, but through our own perspectives. It's one thing to be aware of it, but another to act accordingly."

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