Panel Discussion: The 21st Century Multicultural City

What is the impact of the region’s growing diversity on education, politics, health care, religion and culture and how can universities and the city partner to address these issues?

The following is from the blog of this panel discussion, "The 21st Century Multicultural City," which was part of SMU's Centennial Academic Symposium on Nobember 11, 2011. The entries were posted in brief increments as the discussion progressed and have not been edited. The times indicate when the entries were made.

The panel was asked to discuss "What is the impact of the region’s growing diversity on education, politics, health care, religion and culture and how can universities and the city partner to address these issues?"

The panel was moderated by The Reverend Sheron C. Patterson, director of Communications at North Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and a member of the SMU Board of Trustees; and included Caroline B. Brettell, University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology in SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences; G. Reid Lyon, associate dean and Distinguished Professor of Education Policy and Leadership in SMU's Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development; the Honorable Rafael Anchía of the Texas House of Representatives; Brent A. Brown, founding director of bcWORKSHOP and the Dallas CityDesign Studio; and Yolette García, assistant dean for External Affairs and Outreach in the Simmons School.


Our next panel, "The 21st-Century Multicultural City," is about to begin.


Brettell: There has been a long tradition of research relationships between cities and universities.

I consider Dallas to be a very understudied city. this is a city that has changed enormously in the last 20 to 30 years.

25 percent is foreign-born, 42 percent speak language other than English at home.

As you drive around you will see this diversity throughout the landscape. As a truly multicultural city, Dallas inspires anthropologists like me to study the city.


A few things SMU has been involved with:

Burmese refugees settling in the Victory Meadow area, local health personnel were at a loss to understand this population. My graduate class conducted eight focus groups with Burmese, we produced a report and identified problems. One outcome was to recommend nonverbal flash cards to communicate. An undergraduate student has carried on with this work. There is an example of putting research into action.


Lyon: Simmons School of Education is different from any school of education I've worked with. Simmons is trying to work very closely with community at large, the multicultural community in particular.

SMU is different because I've never seen a college of education hire a neuroscientist like me. But Simmons is dedicated to understanding how children learn.

We have a number of faculty members studying reading. My work has been primarily with disadvantaged youngsters who cn't read

13 percent of white read below basic level

35 percent African-American children read below basic level

45 percent of Hispanic children read below basic level

50 percent of people living in poverty are illiterate,

Here's were we have failed dramatically: We know failure rates are not due to race or ethnicity, they are due to poverty.


That is a public health and education issue. We have a very good handle on how kids learn to read. We have a very good handle on how to help kids who have problems reading. Very little of this information is used in schools.

Here's this big gap between what we know and what we do. Everyone is an expert on education, but the fact of the matter is teaching and learning are incredibly complex. At the same time, no matter how well we prepare teachers, without outstanding school leadership we are sunk.


A tremendous joy for me is working at a university that has relationships with multicultural communities,


Bown: I grew up in a small town around teachers. My mother and aunt were teachers. The future of our city revolves around how we educate our community.

For me, design is about how I can have a direct impact on people and place. Not everyone affected by design is heard.

The city is a national convener of that dialogue.

For a city that has an average of 3,500 people per square mile, we have to convene conversations in a certain way.

Anchia: I'd like to say thank you to all the veterans in the audience.

I've just completed my fourth session in the Texas Legislature. I'm the son of immigrants. My mother is from Mexico and my father is from Spain.

I represent West Dallas, a community affected by the good work at SMU. More than 40 percent of the citizens I represent are noncitizens.


When I was a student here, there was very little contact with the rest of Dallas. There was a perception that Dallas ended at downtown. Important opportunities to venture out were when we were doing community service.

To the students here, you are blessed and need to think of your education that well. I was blessed to have a scholarship here. You are receiving an education that very few are able to have. For those of you who are going to stay in Dallas, consider it incumbent on you to share what you've experienced for good.


Question: How can we inspire more people to volunteer and become more active in the lives of others in Dallas?

Lyon: In Dallas and in Texas 63 percent of 4th and 8th graders are proficient in reading according to TAKS. According to more robust tests, those figures are closer to 20 percent. I don't think people understand the tragedy we're facing. Someone needs to step up and say we're in the middle of education malpractice.

Brown: I think Dallas is very involved in philanthropy. In the 20th century we were the best example of the can do spirit.


Anchia: As an outsider who came to Dallas, this is a terrific place to live, but it hasn't always been for everybody. We're at an important tipping point. I happen to be enthusiastic about it.

Question: What role can design play in a university setting?

Brown: We do not have a school of design in our city. I think that impacts us. Students and professors bring an energy to a city.

Time for break, then next panel.

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