Working Paper 93-24, December 3, 1993(1)

By Estevan Flores

University of Colorado

Sociology Department

Center for Studies of Ethnicity and Race in America (CSERA)

(1) This paper is an edited transcript of a talk given by Estevan Flores for the Intractable Conflict/Constructive Confrontation Project on April 10, 1993. Funding for this Project was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the University of Colorado. All ideas presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Consortium, the University, or Hewlett Foundation. For more information, contact the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0327. Phone: (303) 492-1635, e-mail: crc@cubldr.colorado.edu.

© 1993. Conflict Resolution Consortium. Do not reprint without permission.

I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department and also the Research Coordinator for the Center for Studies of Ethnicity and Race in America (CSERA) at the University of Colorado - Boulder. Maybe more important than those aspects of my life is the fact that I teach a course at the University called, "Race and Ethnic Relations in the United States." Also, for about two years, I have been a member of the Denver Hispanic Police / Community Relations Committee organized by Denver Chief of Police, David Michaud. Additionally, I chair the Leadership Committee of the Colorado Hispanic Institute's "Visiónes" Program, which is a multicultural leadership training program. I mention these activities because they influence how I address the issues of race and racism in the realm of leadership training in the classroom and how I, with many others, derive possible solutions to intractable problems.

Let me begin by reiterating some of the intricate issues in race and ethnic relations. As we talk in the 1990s about changes over the last 10, 15, or 25 years, it is clear that racial attitudes have been improving. A number of studies document that white negative attitudes toward African Americans have been decreasing. Much of the focus here and much of what is studied is, in fact, African American-white relations. From these attitudinal studies, it can be argued that race relations have improved. However, we all know about certain serious vexing racial problems that remain. On the positive side, the last 15 years has ushered in the promises of living together in a multicultural society.

A sign of such plurality exists for those of us who work at CSERA. In this environment we participate in a discourse that is multicultural because we are four distinct programs (Chicano Studies, Asian American Studies, African American Studies, and Native American Studies), working together and forward-looking. We realize that this type of multiculturalism is the direction in which we must be pointed. Multicultural education is the discourse for today and for the future.

A strategy for possible resolution to intractable conflicts exists in multicultural discourse. One of the possible reasons I was asked to serve on the Police / Community Relations Committee is the fact that I live in northwest Denver among the immigrant-Mexican and Chicano community--it is a mixed area. I see what is going on in the neighborhood and I have an understanding of the issues of this particular community. Members of this community have very similar concerns as those brought to our attention by Polly McLean.2

The members of my neighborhood community express to the Committee that they are experiencing police-community problems and they desire and demand redress. This underscores the "disparity of treatment" issue that Leo Cardenas spoke of and the fact there is a lack of confidence in the leaders of our city--whether it be the police chief, the city council, county officials, state legislators, or others.3

In an attempt to ameliorate some of these problems and to establish ties to the various governmental and business entities in the city, leadership training has been important to the Latino community. When looking at leadership training 20 years ago, whether it was Leadership Dallas, Leadership Denver (every major city had these leadership programs for its future leaders), it was found that those programs may have trained 30 individuals per year and maybe two or three would be Latino or Hispanic. So, over a period of five years there would be only 10 or 15 Latinos or Hispanics that had gone through a systematic and professional leadership training program. That is "disparity of treatment."

The Latino community in the Southwest found this disparity to be unacceptable. So in the late 1970s the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) started five leadership programs around the Southwest. Denver was chosen as one of the sites for such a program. This training occurred in other places as well--Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities in the Southwest. These programs, which lasted about four or five years, were designed specifically for Latinos, Chicanos, and Hispanics. Their goal was to train 30 or 60 individuals per year for city and county commissions and boards, where both informal and formal decision-making takes place, instead of the two or three that Leadership Denver and Dallas was training. Clearly the quality of life in a city may improve if there is broad representation from different communities. But, because of funding problems in the early and mid-1980s those programs were terminated.

When I arrived in Dallas in 1983 as Director of Mexican American Studies at Southern Methodist University (SMU), there was still a gnawing concern among Latinos and Chicano leaders that we were not training community members for leadership and to fit into decision-making positions. So, we started our own leadership program with MALDEF's assistance. Again, we were training only Chicanos and Hispanics. Our three-year goal was to train 90 individuals from all walks of life. It did not matter whether they were mid-level executives from U.S. West, whether they were barbers in our community, or whether they were health-care professionals or workers. Anyone interested could apply and participants with high motivations and some demonstrated leadership skills were selected from the pool of applicants.

That is some of the history of multicultural leadership training. Now Denver has a very forward-looking organization, the Colorado Hispanic Institute for Education and Economic Development, to carry on this tradition of leadership training. Through its executive director, Ms. Polly Baca, the Institute secured an $800,000 three-year grant from the Kellogg Foundation to conduct a program on Multicultural Leadership Training. The Leadership Committee of the Colorado Hispanic Institute's "Visiónes" Program works very closely with the Multicultural Leadership training program and its staff to provide multicultural solutions to a variety of problems. It does so by enrolling individuals from different racial and ethnic groups for a 16-week program.

In this program, we are departing from the model of the earlier training programs. I believe the "Visiónes" Program is on course for a multicultural solution to some previously intractable problems. I wrote an article in The Denver Post about "Visiónes" and my enthusiasm. In the article I described some of the tenets of the program. The program, which is a 16-week series of seminars (meeting every Friday afternoon from 1-5 p.m.) acknowledges that much has transpired in race and ethnic relations and that it is important to build bridges across communities or with other sectors of a community.

For example, in looking at in-group solutions--that is, "my group"--nationalism was very important for many groups. Chicano nationalism has been a critical and vibrant philosophy for our community, giving us a rallying cry and bringing us together, politically and culturally. That was very useful in the 1960s-1970s. But the "Visiónes" Program's tenet of building bridges necessitates a new philosophy and strategy.

All of us are very comfortable with our own communities, our own families, and our own past achievements. This is a "comfort zone" that we all operate in. What the members of the Colorado Hispanic Institute for Education and Economic Development are trying to do is get individuals to move out of their "comfort zone," to challenge individuals to move beyond their perceived limits, and to take the next few steps beyond this comfort zone to achieve certain goals. This is uncomfortable and challenging because it means confronting stereotypes and looking at one's preconceived notions about how other people act, believe, know, and feel. It means risking our own mental set or world outlook; in fact we could be wrong, or there may be more acceptable definitions of what really is out there. This is what people of color have to offer.

With this goal, members of various groups begin by confronting themselves, internally, about their stereotypes of other groups, because the program recognizes that questions of race and racism are not just a white problem. Since there are issues of racism in all communities, it is a common ground on which to start a dialogue. We intend for individuals to experience internal growth and personal development from the learning exercises employed.

Acknowledging that individuals are more competent in their own language and culture, the program builds bridges with others from the beginning. We find that this is possible in our seminar format because we establish a non-threatening environment where people can develop and trust each other. But, because of the openness of the dialogue, the seminars can get heated and emotional when stereotypes surface and people have to confront these attitudes. Often this process is heart-wrenching, creating an emotional atmosphere where someone may be openly crying about incidents or events where they have been personally hurt or victimized. But, that is where growth takes place--the person, no longer in a comfort zone, has started to think in a different light. He or she may have been challenged and new ideas are presented as alternative ways of acting or thinking. Eventually they move beyond stereotypes.

Secondly, participants must confront their external world view asking such questions as, "What are the problems in communities?" Due to the fact that we are training future board members and commissioners, our approach focuses on public-policy issues, especially the particular problems of Denver and of Colorado. Participants also go to the State Capitol to meet with their own legislators. This approach is empowering for all involved. The State House becomes accessible.

At the University I have started using some exercises developed by this program and by the Kellogg Fellows "Full Circle" Diversity Workshop in my "Race and Ethnic Relations in the United States" class. I find the exercises quite useful for the students. The students work through biases by being questioned in class and doing exercises where they must engage someone from a different ethnic group in an assigned in-class problem.

Because the students are first taught to understand the history and the culture of the four major groups, by the time we are engaging in person-to-person racial and ethnic issues via the exercises, their solutions to specific problems are based on previous course work and discussions. They can offer solutions which are well thought-out. I find the exercises and the student's participation in them highly satisfactory.

These multicultural approaches have an impact in a variety of ways. "Visiónes" can begin to influence the future decisionmakers of county and city governments because participants will have developed a certain expertise in dealing with these issues. The approach impacts, first, the individual and secondly, those particular environments in which the individual is employed or wishes to get involved (e.g., a city board).

For students, the real challenge is out of the classroom--on campus and other places--where they hear racist statements or where they may see a racist incident. In fact we close class where they understand that it becomes much more than an academic exercise: they must confront the issues.

We would like to see these types of programs broadened to include elementary and secondary schools and colleges--they can be built into curriculums. In fact, University faculty should probably be trained in this sphere as well. There are other arenas--corporate environments, for example--that could benefit from the "Visiónes" Program. This multicultural leadership model can be used anywhere; it was designed for just such application in different groups.

This is our vision. There is hope, there is a plan and a program in place. There are now over 175 individuals in the metro Denver area with the "Visiónes" goals. In this way we will improve our society.


2 See Polly McLean's paper, "Dealing with Intractable Racial and Ethnic Conflict: A Personal Experience," Conflict Resolution Consortium Working Paper #93-23.

3 For more on "disparity of treatment," see Leo Cardenas, "Mediating Racial and Ethnic Conflicts: The Community Relations Approach," Conflict Resolution Consortium Working Paper #93-22.