Lessons to Be Learned: Promoting Multicultural Discourse through a College Minority Student Discussion Panel

Article excerpt

Introduction

On April 13, 2004, the College of Education and Professional Studies held its' 2nd annual college minority student discussion panel at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. The main purpose of this panel discussion was for undergraduate students from culturally diverse backgrounds to discuss the personal experiences they have had as a student on campus. This minority panel discussion was promoted and supported by the Minority Recruitment Retention Committee.

The Minority Recruitment and Retention Committee is comprised of college professors from various departments (i.e., Special Education, Health Studies, and Educational Foundations) that are housed in the College of Education and Professional Studies (CEPS). The Minority Recruitment and Retention Committee had chosen the minority panel discussion as a vehicle that would continue the effort to diversify the academic environment at Eastern Illinois University through the implementation of minority student focus groups and cultural awareness activities for students and faculty in CEPS (Gong, 2002).

Currently at Eastern Illinois University, the percentage of minority students is small, but stable. Minorities account for 9.5% of the student population; 6.5% of the population is African-American, 2.2% Latino-American, 1.3% Asian/Asian-American, and .20% Native American/Pacific Island. There may be geographic reasons for the small number of minority students who come to Eastern Illinois University. It is believed that some students from culturally diverse backgrounds may not consider attending a rural university and seek a college that has more "city" conveniences. The retention rate for minority students who come to Eastern Illinois University is currently 40% over a four-year period.

Panel Membership

Five undergraduate students were chosen by faculty members from the Minority Recruitment and Retention Committee to represent a diverse body of college students. The discussion panel was kept relatively small in order to allow each panelist to have enough time to discuss her viewpoints on various multicultural topics that were posed to them as well as allow for audience feedback after each panel member had given her viewpoints.

It should be stated that a twenty-one year old undergraduate African-American male was also scheduled to join this unique panel. He had to withdraw his participation due to a scheduling conflict with student teaching. The members of this unique college panel were as follows.

* Michelle Lucky - A twenty-three-year-old African-American female undergraduate student majoring in health studies.

* Ifraj Watts - A twenty-two-year-old African-American female undergraduate student majoring in sociology and minoring in health studies.

* Marissa Justiniano-A twenty-year-old Latino-American female undergraduate students majoring in special education.

* Jenny Sohn - A twenty-year-old Asian-American female undergraduate student majoring in special education.

* Camille Jordan - A twenty-year-old African-American female undergraduate student majoring in special education.

Mark Brown, an Assistant Professor in the department of Special Education served as the moderator for this minority panel discussion. He first introduced the panel members to the audience, which was made up of students, faculty, and the Dean from the College of Education and Professional Studies.

Given that the panel discussion was only one hour in length, each student had to measure her words wisely. Each participant had approximately 7-10 minutes to speak. Time was also allocated at the end of the minority panel discussion for audience questioning.

Key Questions

Mark Brown posited the following three questions for the Eastern Illinois University students to reflect upon and then critically answer:

1. How did you prepare yourself for the academic challenges as well as the social adjustments that were needed in order to experience success at the college level? …