2004-09-05 Holland Sentinel "Program teaches how to recognize, reduce racism"

Program teaches how to recognize, reduce racism
The Holland Sentinel

On Thursday, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance and Holland Area Chamber of Commerce will begin an Institute for Healing Racism, the fourth such collaborative effort.

The periodic institute, one of seven in West Michigan and many more nationally, exposes participants to racism in their communities and offers suggested ways to eliminate it.

Ethnic diversity is the heart of each institute.

"There's a real important process of bonding with the other participants," LEDA executive director Gail Harrison said. "We require ethnic and racial diversity in the group. You gain information on a cognitive level, but through dialoguing you have opportunity to hear personal stories of how racism has affected individual lives. Without that racial component, it really becomes an academic exercise."

Although longer courses are better because they deepen trust and camaraderie, the program that starts next week will run through Oct. 28, down two weeks from its original 10.

"One of the constraints that we run into with people who want to attend is that the time commitment is simply too much to participate," Harrison said.

Teresa Lamb, chamber workforce specialist and institute alumna, said the institute follows a curriculum.

"At every session we first of all have to identify the guidelines, the importance of confidentiality," she said. "Then we define the terms: What is culture? What is diversity? What is stereotyping and how does it affect people? What's prejudice? What is discrimination? What's cultural sensitivity?

"The institutes are a tool that's going to help, and hopefully improve the awareness and the importance of inclusion," Lamb said. "We think it is important because the demographics are changing, and everybody's aware of that. We want to foster an inclusive community, and an effective way to do it is through education and awareness."