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Letter to the editor

Diversity courses create empathy

October 10, 2008

As the person responsible for teaching Playwrights of Color, a diversity course that is mentioned in the editorial, “Racist Act Raises Concern” as not dealing with racism, I thought it might be helpful to clarify the content of this course.

My comments, I suspect, apply to other diversity courses as well, although I cannot speak directly to those courses or their instructors. Playwrights of Color, uses theatre as a lens through which to look at what it means to be a member of a visible minority in the United States.

Along the way, we read and discuss plays that recount the history of Native American treaty rights, the social isolation of the Chinese immi- grants who built the transcontinental railroad, the segregated military, the Japanese American internment, anti-miscegenation laws, and similar issues.

The expectation is that if smart people, like the UW students who come through the course, understand our shared history from the point of view of minority group members and empathize with the experiences of people who have sometimes been denied access to the promise of American life, then they will see the world more clearly and abandon racist attitudes.

There is, of course, no guarantee that everyone who takes a diversity class will be inspired to shed their racism, but there is also no guarantee that everyone who takes a math course will be able to solve sudoko puzzles.

Confronting our internalized racism is a life’s work. The purpose of the diversity requirement as I see it is to raise the issues, provide some facts, and initiate some discussion, in the fierce hope that a transformational process will be initiated.

I have taught Playwrights of Color since the diversity requirement was first introduced to the curriculum. For what it is worth the students I meet today are generally more open, more insightful, and more thoughtful than those I worked with when the course was first introduced to the curriculum.

Occasional racist incidents are lamentable but it seems to me that the good work of creating an atmosphere of inclusion is being done effectively on this campus.

Meg Swanson
Professor of Theatre