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Professors discuss changing diversity

A common theme of acknowledging the changing diversity of the nation's population and an ever-increasing need to understand and accept different ethnic groups and religions arose at a panel discussion at Black Hills State University this week.

Seven BHSU professors and staff members took part in the panel each speaking on his respective area of interest and then answering questions from the audience. Throughout the presentations there emerged a common theme of the importance of recognizing and dealing with continuing racism, prejudice and stereotypes in society and especially in our state.

According to Legia Spicer, the global awareness committee at BHSU decided to host a panel discussion concerning the changing face of America after reading the following quote in Time magazine. "...Today, cities like Los Angeles, New York and Houston are already "majority minority." But some states, like South Dakota, are still more than 90 percent white. One thing bears remembering: every day America's heartland looks more and more like New York and Los Angeles, not the other way around."

Dr. Larry Landis presented some facts and statistics about the changing demographics in the United States and the world. Landis indicated that the baby boom will cause some interesting problems as people live longer. He stressed that several factors, including age, ethnic group and increased lifespan, are affecting the structure of the population and predicted that there will be no majority race in this nation by year 2050.

Dr. Dan Peterson spoke on racism and prejudice in South Dakota. He discussed a social-distance scale which measures the degree of intimacy and prejudice in a society. Peterson said the stability of prejudice measured on this scale throughout the years cannot be ignored in the state and the nation. He also indicated that many more subtle forms of racism are harder to measure but are prevalent.

Dr. Ahrar Ahmad presented on religious diversity. According to Ahmad, almost every kind of religion in the world is found in the U.S., yet we tend to ignore many of them. He also discussed the "supposed" separation of church and state and pointed out that the two are not and have never been separate. Major political concerns overlap the religious beliefs of the region. He sees a movement to a more spiritual nature in society and says we must meet the challenge of the future by mutual respect and understanding.

Dr. Nicholas Wallerstein spoke about Dr. Martin Luther King's non-violent response to white oppression. Wallerstein said that King was most interested in defending his method of non-violent protest and promoting the "weapon" of non-violence. King advocated a method of non-violent protest because of the changes it evokes in the oppressor. The first response is bitterness, the next response is a tension that causes people to think anew and create a change in the minds of the oppressors. King used non-violent methods such as sit-ins and marches to create this tension in cities that prompted many to re-examine and ultimately change their own thoughts and beliefs.

Dr. Joe Valades pointed out several items currently in the national news dealing with Latino and Hispanic issues, from the controversy of whether to return six-year-old Elian Gonzalez to Cuba, to the increase in Latino music in the national music scene, to the immersion of Latino children in local and regional school systems. Valades said that complexity of immigration issues will challenge Americans to re-consider their thoughts and laws. The Latino/Hispanics group is estimated to replace African-Americans the largest minority group in the nation in future years. He described the Latino/Hispanic ethnic group at a crossroad - a place of connection and interest with the rest of America as evidenced by the increase of Latino influences.

Dr. John Glover discussed stereotypes in South Dakota. He stated that the American Indian/Aleut/Eskimo ethnic group is growing faster than the public as a whole. He stated that changes need to be made on many levels to change stereotypes and attitudes and increase acceptance, beginning with the information taught to our children and the typical textbook treatment of American Indians.

Jace DeCory used the time to respond to the comments made by panel members. Speaking from her heart, DeCory said she believes that things have changed, though at times it has been slow change, very frightening at times and very sad at times. She believes more people have realized that it's okay to be different. She encouraged everyone to look at one another as human beings rather than demographics to increase the understanding and acceptance of one another. DeCory indicated she is extremely glad her ancestors didn't lose their culture or language during the times of forced education. She said her grandmother taught her to be tolerant of others, even those who are not tolerant themselves.

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