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Diversity course offers new perspectives to professor

Deborah Secord sitting in her office at Dickinson State University. (Patrick Bernadeau/The Dickinson Press)

You never stop learning, even, and especially, if you're a college professor.

Dickinson State University Professor Deborah Secord is pretty excited to be teaching her latest course on diversity, despite it being in addition to her regular teaching responsibilities, because this direct study is offering her a chance to teach foreign-born student teachers, whose perspectives she thinks will shape the future of the course.

"They approach things so differently than my students on campus do, and they have a unique perspective they bring to things that, to me, are things that (we think) 'Oh, we know these things (already),'" Secord said. "(They) have a completely different perspective ..."

Secord has agreed to do a "direct study" to help provide a necessary class for these teachers to qualify for their licensure, specifically a class in diversity relating to Native American studies. Secord's class covers a wide variety of topics and subjects, including Native American studies, but it also incorporates other ethnic and racial groups, religious groups, and sexual orientations.

"My hope for them is to expose them to not only a diverse way of thinking, but to reiterate to them that it doesn't matter how you feel about diversity. What matters is how you treat every student who walks into your classroom," Secord said. "Whether we understand them or whether we don't, it is our responsibility as professionals to learn what we can about them and their background to make us more effective with them."

Secord said she's been surprised already, though the class is only just underway, with how the perspectives she's encountered differ from her own. The history between indigenous North American tribes and the European settlers and later homesteaders who encountered them, after all, is a bloody one, with effects that last into the current era.

"To me, I'm looking at it, and my perspective on Native American and white American, for lack of a better word, relationships is that they weren't always positive and they still aren't positive in a lot of ways," Secord said. "I also realize that our perspective of Native Americans are they are on their reservations a lot of times, and the reservations are not wealthy places to live. We would say that America has taken so much away from them, it's hard for them ... to live the way that they want to live in our American society."

However, without the weight of that history, Secord found surprising reactions from her students.

"When I read the first (assignment) it was along the lines of 'This is great. They had so much taken away from them, and they are still inspired to keep moving on and they're trying to rebuild.' And it's like, 'Yes they are, but that's not my experience as to how we Americans think about it,'" Secord said. "I think the perspective is going to be very nice."

Secord has high hopes that, despite teaching the course, she will be learning a lot from it, as well.

"I'm really excited about ... learning about diversity from somebody who doesn't look like me, who doesn't have my background," she said. "Somebody who is coming at it from a completely different perspective."

Even the biases that these students bring to the class—one of the first assignments is for students to identify their own biases—prove a lot different from what Secord typically sees.

"I've never worked with foreign exchange teachers before. ... One just wrote about her biases and what makes her unique, and she said one of her biases was that from a really young child she wanted to come to America and work in America," Secord said. "So she's able to be here now, and she said 'That's my bias, my bias is towards America, not against somebody else."

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