Logan prof says to talk/listen to racism topics

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Sharing years of life and professional experiences, USU Clinical Assistant Professor, Moises Diaz, told Eastern faculty and students on Jan. 14, when it comes to racial and other human diversity topics, to get better we must genuinely listen. The topic of his invited lecture was The Importance of Classroom Diversity Conversations.

“It takes effort to listen and have empathy for people,” he said. “In general, people simultaneously formulate responses as they hear others talk. Listening can be hard if you think you already have the answer. We are a society of convenience . . . just like how people microwave everything because it is fast and easy and that’s how we experience life.”

Diaz suggested that in this generation, technology like online shopping, social media, vines, memes, email, texting all contribute to instant gratification and likely contribute to lack of attention to subtle and blatant cues in actual human interaction. People are readily validated with a barrage of information which can persistently reinforce entrenched views. In our world of increased technology and information overload, there are unworkable expectations and relations from inadequate levels of listening or response to each other.

Unrealistic or incomplete images and lack of appreciation on all sides are outcomes of the ways we receive information today. There is also good in technology due to the ability to access a range of viable information. He said, “That level of information takes intentionality and work to uncover just like meaningful communication.”

Here in Utah, there’s a common reaction of avoiding conflict. This can be a non-confrontational culture and when cultural outsiders come in who are very direct or abrasive, people can shut down, or don’t engage because it can be such a cultural contradiction. As a consequence, some particularly confrontational people’s constant assertion or belligerence “can be like watching a bull in a china closet.”

If nothing more, “locals just say what they think about you after you leave to avoid creating offense,” Diaz said. At worst, this can lend to a polarized perception of the host culture as disingenuous, and outsiders as “rude.”

On the converse, it is giving people a chance to show another side of themselves prior to confronting what is perceived as their negativity, and for many, candor and directness are virtues. A more authentic interaction comes from trying to actually value people and the best parts of their culture, rather than accentuating only the most negative caricatures.

“There are strengths and positives in both sides. The human tendency is to compare and compete; yet we all have different skill sets for survival. We all make mistakes and they can be opportunities. We can learn from these mistakes by choosing to understand, to be united, he said.”

Anywhere you go, the predominant culture has social and behavioral norms including communication, language and vernacular. “To insist on a cultural contradiction as your norm having no sense of value for those around you can portray falta de educacion,” he said. This is a Spanish term translating to lack of education, something akin to lack of respect or lack of cultural humility.

The New York native broke his conversation’s topic into 12 categories. Other topics he shared stories from included generational, social class, religion, gender, politics, race/ethnicity, sexuality and family background. It is easier to vilify people so we don’t have to invest energy in understanding or caring about their point of view. Or we tell people to, “get over it, don’t talk about it.”

While it is very important to find what we have in common, it must be more than what others have in common with you. “That’s like saying one size fits all,” he said.

We all need the ability to tell our own story, that is very important.” Silencing by any group serves certain needs and ignores the reality, needs and rights of others. So does maintaining a status quo in relational dynamics. We have to talk, he said. It won’t get better unless we talk. It takes hard work. It can be hard to gauge intent, which can call for us to suspend judgment and have forgiveness if things are to improve.

“There are a lot of ways to respond to power dynamics and injustice in our world.” He referenced writings on a wall in Calcutta, India, that were attributed to Mother Teresa as portraying great strength. She laid out a variety of ways people could try to exploit, hurt you or compromise you as you work hard to try to build a better world, and she wrote, “do it anyway.”

Diaz said it is our duty and privilege in higher education to support and be the future leaders of society. “People are our investment in this profession. It is our responsibility as educators and students to practice civility. In higher education settings, we are supporting the future leaders of our society. On our campuses, we need to prepare students who can interact with the world around them. It is our opportunity and gift to each other to create a context where diverse citizens can thrive.”

Note: Moises Diaz is Assistant Practicum Director and Clinical Assistant Professor of Social Work at Utah State University. His research interests include social work in educational settings, race/ethnic relations, and professional self-care. His teaching interests include introduction to social work, intervention with diverse clients, human behavior in the social environment and integrative practicum seminar.

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