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Doing diversity right

Renowned Iowa schoolteacher and discrimination educator gets to the heart of the matter

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Treating others as you would have them treat you is not as easy as it seems.

On the last night of the Diversity Summer Institute's annual conference, held at the University of Calgary from July 31 to Aug. 2, keynote speaker Jane Elliott enlightened a captivated audience on the complexities of eliminating racial discrimination.

"There's no gene for racism," she said. "You're not born a racist. You have to carefully be taught to be one. We're all members of the same race, the human race."

Founded in 1986, the Diversity Summer Institute brings together community groups, business representatives, and government agencies to discuss issues of diversity in Canada. The theme of DSI 2001 was "Getting to the heart of Diversity: Individual and Organizational Commitment."

Elliott is the Iowa school teacher who achieved fame in the 1960s when she taught her third grade students about racism through an exercise highlighting discrimination based on eye colour, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

"I was sure I wasn't a racist until after Martin Luther King was killed," she reflected. "The day after he died I listened to another teacher say 'It's about time they killed that son of a bitch anyways.'"

Though initially greeted with hostility, death threats, the verbal and physical abuse of her children, and the boycott of her parent's store, Elliott persisted with the discrimination exercise because she felt it would be wrong to do nothing. The "Blue Eye/Brown Eye" exercise demonstrates how discrimination and prejudice evolve when one group has power over another but does not respect them.

"People are afraid of change," she pointed out. "They react harshly to what they don't understand, but it's the lack of understanding which allows racism to exist and grow."

Elliott expressed hope that people who hear her speak will understand what minorities in society go through on a daily basis, and then they might learn to change their ways.

nbsp;   Treating others as you would have them treat you is not as easy as it seems.

On the last night of the Diversity Summer Institute's annual conference, held at the University of Calgary from July 31 to Aug. 2, keynote speaker Jane Elliott enlightened a captivated audience on the complexities of eliminating racial discrimination.

"There's no gene for racism," she said. "You're not born a racist. You have to carefully be taught to be one. We're all members of the same race, the human race."

Founded in 1986, the Diversity Summer Institute brings together community groups, business representatives, and government agencies to discuss issues of diversity in Canada. The theme of DSI 2001 was "Getting to the heart of Diversity: Individual and Organizational Commitment."

Elliott is the Iowa school teacher who achieved fame in the 1960s when she taught her third grade students about racism through an exercise highlighting discrimination based on eye colour, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

"I was sure I wasn't a racist until after Martin Luther King was killed," she reflected. "The day after he died I listened to another teacher say 'It's about time they killed that son of a bitch anyways.'"

Though initially greeted with hostility, death threats, the verbal and physical abuse of her children, and the boycott of her parent's store, Elliott persisted with the discrimination exercise because she felt it would be wrong to do nothing. The "Blue Eye/Brown Eye" exercise demonstrates how discrimination and prejudice evolve when one group has power over another but does not respect them.

"People are afraid of change," she pointed out. "They react harshly to what they don't understand, but it's the lack of understanding which allows racism to exist and grow."

Elliott expressed hope that people who hear her speak will understand what minorities in society go through on a daily basis, and then they might learn to change their ways.

"Assimilate means to become similar to the white people," she explained. "People use the term melting pot, but really they want or require those who are different to become like the white people. I don't want tolerance. I want to be appreciated, recognized, and accepted, but I do not want to be tolerated."

Elliott and her ground-breaking exercise have been featured on television shows such as Late Night with Johnny Carson, Oprah, and many news programs.  Elliot has also been the subject of numerous documentaries such as "Blue-Eyed," "Eye of the Storm," and "A Class Divided."

DSI 2001 was sponsored by the university's Cultural Diversity Institute. The CDI works with individuals and organizations to help deal with the culturally diverse needs of their clientele, workforce, and marketplace.

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