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Educators discuss the impact of Brown decision

May 27, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Educators David Lovett and Diane Jefferson teach that multiculturalism is a weapon against ignorance.

Lovett and Jefferson, administrators at Shippensburg (Pa.) University, were invited to Hagerstown Community College to lecture Wednesday about the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Board of Education.

Lovett and Jefferson's talk came only weeks after Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich said multiculturalism was "bunk" and "crap." He made the comments on a Baltimore talk-radio program in support of comments Comptroller William Donald Schaefer made about immigrants needing to speak English.

HCC spokeswoman Beth Stull said Wednesday's lecture was scheduled before Ehrlich and Schaefer made their comments, and was intended to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision.

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The court ruled 50 years ago last week that separating black and white students violated the 14th Amendment to the constitution.

But "the discussion (about Brown) leads very much to the kind of thing that we had today," Stull said. The point of Wednesday's discussion was to "spread understanding and embrace multiculturalism and tolerance," as Jefferson and Lovett discussed.

So what is multiculturalism?

After their talk, Lovett and Jefferson explained multiculturalism as they see it.

Lovett said that you first have to agree that there are cultures and groups of people - whether it's blacks, women, American Indians, gays - that have a history in the country that hasn't been told.

Knowing that, and then making the effort to get to know people outside the group you are in, is practicing multiculturalism, Lovett said.

Jefferson said that by getting to know people outside your group, you are better equipped to "navigate waters in a multicultural society."

The two told their audience Wednesday that studies have shown people who are exposed to many cultures are more likely to perform better in life. But studies show that as the number of immigrants in this country increases, the nation's schools are becoming more segregated.

Lovett spoke from the podium, and Jefferson walked through the crowd, calling on students, touching teachers' shoulders and asking questions.

Jefferson later called this "breaking down barriers," which helps make people comfortable with talking about race and discrimination with someone different from themselves.

"Why are we here to celebrate Brown versus the Board of Education?" Jefferson asked.

Slowly, some answered. One student said people are still discriminated against. Another said, "It doesn't matter what race you are ... You gotta be able to work with everybody." Yet another said, "tolerance."

"I personally think we are already equal. ...," said Desserrae Cordell, 18, a student who attended the lecture. "(But) it's life and we should change like they said."

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