Developing More Diversity

The 17th annual Multicultural Education Conference will feature keynote speaker Kevin Kumashiro.

In a time of extreme educational pressures, teachers, students and community members plan to come together in support of inclusivity and diversity in schools at the 17th annual Multicultural Education Conference.

“It originally developed when people here at SUNY New Paltz, especially in the school of education and in the community, wanted to make sure that all students, whatever their race, gender, class, sexual orientation or language background were being given full opportunities in the school and in the community,” event organizer and education professor Nancy Schniedewind said.

This year’s conference on Friday, Nov. 18 titled “Courage in the Face of Contradiction: The Power & Hope of Multicultural Education,” will go from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and feature a keynote speaker, a film preview, a panel of Mid-Hudson educators and students and a workshop for high school students.

While this conference will not have the usual series of workshops, the planning for these parts of the event took a great deal of work, beginning in February, Schniedewind said. There is a conference committee that meets every three weeks and numerous co-sponsors including concerned parents of New Paltz, various departments and programs at New Paltz, Vassar and Marist College.

“It’s definitely a matter of asking questions about what are the needs, who can meet those needs, let’s contact possible speakers and then how do we get the word out,” Schniedewind said. “It is done corroboratively.”

This year they decided to have the conference focus on the pressures educators currently face, such as “top down mandates and high stakes testing.”

The committee then thought up a list of possible speakers across the nation who could address this theme and decided on Kevin Kumashiro, professor of Asian American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, director of the Center for Anti-Oppressive Education and president of the National Association for Multicultural Education. Chinese-American filmmaker Lee Mun Wah will accompany Kumashiro as the second main speaker.

“Both of these individuals are nationally-known speakers in the field of Multicultural Education. This will be a valuable opportunity to hear national experts, as well as multicultural educators in the Mid-Hudson region,” committee member and assistant education professor Terry Murray said. “They will offer both ideas and hope for teaching the diversity of young people in our schools and communities in effective and meaningful ways.”

Kumashiro’s lecture “Five Lenses for Multicultural Teaching and Advocacy” will discuss “five new methods for perceiving and re-evaluating the obstacles to and the advantages of multicultural education.”According to Schniedewind, he will also talk about the right wing’s role in the “debate on education, how it has brought education to this point of external assessment pressures and how to teach in that context.

Schniedewind believes that it is extremely important to develop a curriculum that is relevant to all students no matter their gender, race or cultural background, but feels this pressured environment forces teachers to “teach to the test,” rather than address diversity issues.

“Good education is responding to the needs of the students, making curriculum meaningful to students backgrounds so you can engage them and challenge them to achieve,” Schniedewind said. That’s totally mitigated by all this testing.”

Mun Wah will be screening a segment of his new film called “If These Halls Could Talk,” which is about experiences of students of color on predominantly white college campuses.  Afterward he will facilitate a diversity dialogue so that those who really care about the issue can speak about it and share ideas with others.

Schniedewind hopes the film’s relevance will be of particular interest to SUNY New Paltz students and will allow them to think about what they canlearn from the film that might “enable

them to think different, act differently and engage differently with the diverse students of SUNY New Paltz.”

This will take place in the afternoon and students have the option of only attending this portion if they cannot take part in the whole conference.

The other guests at the conference are a panel of local teachers, an administrator, a social worker and a student active in a high school diversity club. They will each briefly talk about “keeping a commitment to diversity alive” in their work and how they do that.

Retired high school teacher Gwendolyn Higgins will be holding the workshop for about 50 high school students from Poughkeepsie, Pine Bush, New Paltz, Arlington, Ellenville and Dover, all members of diversity clubs. This provides them with a chance to meet and speak to each other about what they’re doing and ways to help each other in making their schools “more accepting of diversity,” Schniedewind said.

Schniedewind is confident that the conference will be successful and hopes that attendees will leave more informed about how to handle today’s situation of increased pressures along and with a strong motivation to keep multicultural education afloat.

“We hope that people will feel a renewed energy and commitment to addressing multicultural issues in their educational spaces,” Schniedewind said.“For teachers it will be being more conscious about their curriculum and interactions, for students it will be more aware and knowledgeable about issues of inclusivity.”

The cost of the conference is  $40 for the public and $5 for students. The deadline for registration is Tuesday, Nov. 8, those interested should visit the Office of Student Activities to sign up.