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Michael Benitez, director of Intercultural Development, has organized and edited an anthology of essays from some of the nation’s most prominent experts on issues of race, power, and privilege. The project will serve as a teaching tool for educators using the academy-award winning movie Crash in their classrooms.

The anthology, “Crash Course: Reflections on the Film Crash for Critical Dialogues about Race, Power, and Privilege,” is being published by the Institute for Democratic Education and Culture/Speak Out. Speak Out is the country’s only national non-profit organization that promotes progressive voices on campuses and in communities through its network of more than 200 speakers and artists. Benitez, who is a member of the speaker network and on Speak Out’s Campus Advisory Board, co-edited the anthology with Felicia Gustin, director of Speak Out.

The compilation will be ready for presentation at the National Conference for Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) May 28- June 3 in San Francisco. With more than 2,000 educators in attendance annually, the conference is the most comprehensive forum on issues of race and ethnicity in higher education in the nation.

The seed for the project was planted last spring at NCORE 2006 during a session focusing on the possible educational uses of Crash.

“I formed a relationship with people through NCORE,” says Benitez. “After further discussion, we decided Crash was in one sense a good film addressing some very real issues, and in another sense it was like a split truth – based on these overpowering assumptions and stereotypes that could easily reinforce prejudice if we don’t dissect it properly.”

Benitez believes, even though the film is now a number of years old, the issues covered in Crash are very pertinent and timely today and will continue to be well into the future. This became very evident to him through his conversations following NCORE 2006, as he discovered educators at both the college and high school levels were already using the film in their classes.

“Everyone I spoke with had in some way used the film to spark dialogue and generate some genuine discussion about these issues,” he says. “With the anthology, we want to give some context to these conversations, to understand not only the positive aspects of the film but also the negative aspects of the film and how we are challenging these assumptions.”

Benitez also had an active example of this teaching right here on campus.

As part of the Class of 2010 New Student Orientation, Lafayette used Crash as the summer “reading” assignment instead of a book. The orientation was featured in the Christian Science Monitor and Inside Higher Ed as an innovative way to engage incoming students on issues of diversity and race.

Prior to orientation, first-year students watched the film over the summer andcame together as an intellectual community via internet-based discussions. During orientation, the students engaged in discussions of multiculturalism in American with faculty, upper-level students, staff, and alumni.

They also read a guide to “reading” the film authored by Alix Ohlin, assistant professor of English, and Andy Smith, assistant professor of English and chair of American Studies. This guide is included in the “Crash Course” anthology as are two essays written by Benitez, one of which specifically focuses on the orientation.

A dozen scholars contributed to the anthology including Victor Lewis,founder of the Center for Diversity Leadership; Hugh Vasquez, founder of the Todos Institute; Peggy McIntosh, associate director of the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College; Andrew Jolivette, author andassistant professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University; and Tim Wise, award-winning anti-racism author and activist.

With the launch of the anthology, Benitez plans to track the effectiveness of the film Crash as a learning stimulator.

“Something I want to continue in the fall will be getting focus groups together and taking advantage of the opportunity to find out what the orientation experience meant to these students,” says Benitez. “I want to get some sense of how they thought the film and discussion helped them deal with this issue, and if they are more likely to encounter or recognize issues dealing with race.”

He also hopes to put together a focus group including the faculty from numerous disciplines who were also involved with the orientation.

Categorized in: Academic News