Skin Deep Guide


Contributed by Maurianne Adams & Mathew Ouellett

Setting the context: Why should faculty be concerned about racism on campus?

College and university student bodies nation-wide are increasingly diverse racially and ethnically, while the faculties and staff remain predominantly white. Given that faculty and staff tend to remain the most stable population in their campus communities, their values and assumptions are important in defining the culture of the campus. For these reasons, it is important for faculty and staff to acknowledge their culturally-derived values and assumptions, to assess their comfort and skills in various cross-cultural campus situations, to take responsibility for gaining empathy with all of their students, and to become aware of the impact of their own socialization on their interactions with students whose social and cultural backgrounds differ from their own.

Primary learning goals for faculty and staff development workshops using “Skin Deep” may be (1) increased awareness of one’s own racial identity and the assumptions and values that are embedded in that identity, (2) increased empathy with one’s students’ racial identities and the different perspectives that may result from their different life experiences and opportunities, and/or (3) better understanding of the dynamics that occur between faculty or staff members and students whose racial-ethnic heritages are different.

General Principles of Practice

What general considerations of group process can help facilitators plan for effective faculty and staff development workshops?

  • Anticipate that faculty are likely to prefer intellectual over emotional interaction. Without an adequate explanation or rationale, they may resist self-awareness as a worthwhile learning goal. For example, they may prefer to focus upon their own students or the students in “Skin Deep”. These distractions to their own self reflection may skillfully be brought back to their own responses and experiences.
  • Agree upon definitions of key terms that are, if left undefined, likely to lead to confusion and conflict. Key terms include “diversity” as differentiated from “social justice,” and “race” and “racism” as distinct from “ethnicity.”
  • Don’t assume that faculty academic achievement equates with self-awareness on issues of race or racism. Most faculty and staff are likely to have grown up and/or currently live in monocultural environments. Attitudes, beliefs and behaviors are often not acknowledged as reflections of a particular racial group (white), ethnic heritage (European) or gender orientation (male). Although faculty and staff are not responsible for the culture-specific beliefs with which they grew up, they are surely
    responsible for examining and questioning them as adults and as educators. The implication of this for staff development workshops is to focus upon self-awareness as a major learning goal.
  • Be aware that discussing race and racism may be just as emotional and difficult for faculty and staff as it is for students. Faculty and staff may not know the history or social context of racism. They may also have considerable prestige and credibility at stake in acknowledging their lack of knowledge or understanding.
  • Acknowledge that discussions will be works in progress. We hope, and expect, that participants will change their thinking as a result of the discussion and gain a perspective that differs from the perspective they brought to the beginning of the discussion.
  • Maintain a balance between practical strategies and exploration of feelings. Some faculty or staff may also want “the answer,” practical things “to do,” or look for uniformity of opinion. Facilitators need to be ready to acknowledge this frustration while helping participants stay open to the ambiguities which naturally accompany the complexity of addressing race issues and racism.
  • Assess the likely personal risk-levels for participants. Do not expect faculty or staff participants to engage in high risk activities, or to make themselves vulnerable in a group setting, unless there is adequate time and opportunity to build trust, to debrief high risk or personal-sharing activities.

Specific Suggestions for Use of  SKIN DEEP

  • Faculty and staff participants might be interested in this video either as a stimulus for their own self-awareness and empathy with their students or as a teaching tool for their own classes. It is important for staff development workshops to achieve clarity with participants about their interests and expectations.
  • SKIN DEEP can be used for staff and faculty across any disciplinary focus. Even so-called “neutral” disciplines (hard science or Engineering, for example) are beginning to address the diversity of staff and students assembled in the classroom. This video can be useful in facilitating discussions that increase skill and comfort levels and enhance classroom dynamics. Faculty for whom racism content is likely to be an established or formal part of the curriculum (for example, Women’s Studies, African American or Ethnic Studies, Social Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, or Education) are more likely to see the applicability of this film to their curriculum as well as to their teaching processes.
  • For faculty who are not comfortable with large group discussions or personal disclosure, reflective writing exercises may also be more effective and closer to faculty ways of knowing. Discussions may be usefully interspersed with short reflective writing exercises that inform discussion but which are kept private.
  • SKIN DEEP can usefully be viewed in disciplinarily homogeneous or mixed groups. Staff development organizers may want to consider some of the trade-offs in these different formats. Mixed groups allow participants to follow their own levels of interest, without waiting for departmental colleagues to share their interest. There may also be greater safety  and privacy outside one’s department, especially for junior or pre-tenure faculty. It is often interesting for faculty and staff to note that similar issues of racism occur in classrooms across campus and across disciplines, and also that effective teaching strategies can be quite similar across disciplines. Same-discipline, homogeneous groups of faculty and staff can allow for more in-depth discussions of curricular or classroom innovations.

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