Respecting Diversity in the Classroom & Beyond: Multicultural Guidelines


I’m re-posting these from a course I took on Facilitating dialogue for Social Justice. The guidelines below are ones that I found useful in creating a space to establish safe environments for discussing and acknowledging issues of diversity, privilege, and oppression not only in the classroom, but in our daily interactions with others.  I try to incorporate them into my work, as well as my life.

Multicultural Guidelines – Fall 2010 SW709 class: Training in Intergroup Dialogue Facilitation

1.  Our primary commitment is to learn from each other. We acknowledge differences amongst us in skills, interests, values, and experience.

2.  We acknowledge that we all hold conscious and unconscious attitudes and behaviors toward people who are not like/unlike us. We acknowledge that racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and other forms of discrimination (religion, age, ability, language, etc.) exist and are likely to surface from time to time.

3.  We acknowledge that one of the meanings of racism is that we have been systematically taught misinformation about our own group and especially members of devalued groups (this is true for both dominant and dominated group members). The same is true about sexism and other forms of prejudice—we are taught misinformation about ourselves and others.

4.  We will try not to blame people for the misinformation we have learned, but we hold each other responsible for repeating misinformation or offensive behavior after we have learned otherwise. We also hold ourselves responsible for reflecting on what we’ve experienced and learned in the class and apply that to everyday life.

5.  People who are oppressed will not be blamed for their oppression.

6.  We will trust that people are always doing the best they can, both to learn and to behave in non-racist, non-sexist, and multiculturally productive ways.

7.  We will actively pursue opportunities to learn about our own groups and those of others, yet not enter or invade others’ privacy when unwanted. We will let each other sit with their own discomforts, allow them to be uncomfortable, and not “rescue” them.

8.  We will share information about our groups with other members of the class, and we will not demean, devalue, or “put down” people for their experiences. We will not treat individuals as “representatives” of their social identities; each person speaks as an individual and not for their entire group.

9.  We each have an obligation to actively challenge the myths and stereotypes about our own groups and other groups so that we can break down the walls that prohibit group cooperation and group gain.

10. We want to create a safe atmosphere for open discussion.  Thus, at times, members of the class may wish to make a comment verbally or in an assignment that they do not want repeated outside the classroom.  If so, the person should preface his or her remarks with a request and the instructor and class will agree not to attach names or repeat the remarks. We can repeat general themes as long as we keep anonymity.

11. We agree to challenge the idea and not the person. Speak your discomfort effectively and with ahimsa. We will not take things personally, but we understand that we may be personally affected.

12. We agree to provide room for constructive dialogue, and we acknowledge that this will be challenging. Also, we agree to foster an atmosphere that is inclusive. This means we are responsible to monitor our own participation while also being aware of others’. We will think about “checking in” periodically to help us with this process.

13. We agree to actively listen. We will be present, engaged, and open to where the dialogue may lead even if it takes a new or different direction than the planned topic. At the same time, we will be aware of conscious or unconscious attempts to avoid topics that we find challenging or uncomfortable.

14. We will support each other and ourselves during our learning process, but we will not put any burden on targeted groups.

15. We agree to deal with conflict constructively and in a respectful manner. 16. If a guideline is broken, we will handle it as we do any other conflict – constructively and respectfully. Resolution has no room for grudges.

Adapted from those developed by Dr. Ruby Beale at the University of Michigan.

Modified by Fall 2010 SW709 class.

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Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW

I'm a social justice worker interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

8 Responses

  1. Michael Bush says:

    Dear Relando:

    It appears that your work coincides with some of the teaching I do through the Alliance for College-Ready Public High Schools at College-Ready Academy High School #5 in South Los Angeles. I’m lucky to teach a Social Issues course which incorporates a lot of the same ideas you’re exploring, and have founded a consultancy (see website) with numerous similar interests revolving around individual and organizational conflict resolution. Perhaps you’d like to interface at some point in July about our mutual interests?


    Michael Bush

  2. April 2008, the ARE Statewide Conference “The Struggle for Social Justice Education” led me to San Diego, CA; it was such a profound experience that I moved to SD on July 1, 2009 from Boston. I continue to community organize with ARE SD which is comprised primarily of teachers. As Social Work professionals and human beings it is important to dialogue and to create the spaces to do so. Thank you for sharing Relando.

    I am recognizing how fortunate I was to have attended a social justice pilot high school in Boston, MA from 1999-2001 it was called Multicultural High and is now known as New Mission High. I was encouraged to study and debate societal policies and practices that were relevant to my life. It’s where I initially researched public versus private prisons, diamond wars, urban poverty and other pertinent social justice topics through hands on learning and community service.I was taught critical thinking and writing through the Habits of Mind. I’ve been aiming to educate to liberate and reduce recidivism ever since. Thanks for your replay and live well! ;-)


    • Wow. What a story! Thank you for sharing that, and for alerting me to this organization. I hear you. As Social Work professionals and Human Beings, creating spaces to have dialogue for social change in ourselves as well as in others is very important to the work that we do. I’ve found in my experiences that people are often hungry to have the dialogue, but may not know how to create those spaces in a safe, yet challenging way. Creating those spaces, and helping others to do so is an area in which I seek to serve.

      I wasn’t introduced to the concept of social justice education until after I had started college, but I’ve been hooked ever since.

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