The most important aspect of embracing diversity is for individuals to recognize that no matter how different we all seem from the outside, we’re all still human and face similar challenges.
That’s the philosophy held by The University of Southern Mississippi’s Dr. Kim LeDuff, associate professor and associate director of the School of Mass Communication and Journalism, who says her work as an educator allows her to fulfill her commitment to inclusiveness and educating people about the importance of diversity in an increasingly multicultural society.
“It’s what we have in common that allows us to see beyond difference,” she said. “I believe it is essential that my students come to this realization, especially when given the power to tell stories that represent groups and individuals. That’s why I do my best to encourage a conversation about the importance of diversity through my teaching.”
On Thursday, Feb. 16, a State Institutions for Higher Learning (IHL) panel chose LeDuff as this year’s IHL Black History Month Educator of the Year for 2012. She was announced at IHL offices in Jackson as the winner of the honor from among nominees from the state’s public universities.
“This is a well deserved award,” said Dr. Chris Campbell, director of the School of Mass Communication and Journalism. “Dr. LeDuff has been an incredible addition to the Southern Miss faculty, and she’s been instrumental to our school’s success in building a diverse faculty and a curriculum that addresses issues related to living in a culturally diverse world.”
LeDuff, a New Orleans native, embraces teaching, mentoring and motivating her students, not because it’s expected but because those activities are integral to her lifelong commitment to “pay it forward.”
“I believe in serving my university as well as extending myself and my skills to the surrounding community,” LeDuff said. “In my own life I have been fortunate to have support and encouragement to fulfill my own goals. My mission is to pay it forward in all aspects of my life.”
LeDuff conducts research on race and representation in mass media, as well as on journalism education. She is the author of Tales of Two Cities: How Race and Crime Intersect on Local TV News and co- author, along with Southern Miss colleagues Campbell and Cheryl Jenkins, of Race and News: Critical Perspectives.
She teaches courses in broadcast journalism, media writing, mass media theory and pedagogy, as well as a course on race, gender and media at the graduate and undergraduate levels.
Riva Brown Teague of Jackson, Miss., a doctoral student in mass communication, says LeDuff always provides practical examples as part of her approach to instruction so her students can better understand difficult theoretical constructs and concepts.
“She’s an excellent educator who engages her students to think deeper and reach higher, and she also helps them outside the classroom to excel academically and professionally,” Teague said. “We’re fortunate to have a professor of her exceptional caliber on the faculty, and the school is a better place for students as a result.”
LeDuff teaches a course titled Race, Gender and Media at both the graduate and undergraduate level. At the beginning of every semester in the undergraduate version, she does a demographic survey of her class and pairs her students based on difference (gender, race, religion, extracurricular activities, hobbies, age, etc.)
“The first assignment is for them to take one another on a ‘cultural field trip,’” LeDuff said.
One semester LeDuff had a white female student invite her black male partner, a Southern Miss football player, to work an hour of her shift as a receptionist at a hair salon. In turn, he had her train with him during an early morning work-out session. Last fall semester, LeDuff assigned a student from Bangladesh to invite her American partner to dinner and only speak to him in Hindi, allowing him to experience what her family encountered when they arrived in America.
Each pair writes a reflective essay and then discusses their experience with one another and with the class. In the end, most report gaining new perspectives on those they first identify as “different.”
“Very often, they find that they are more alike than they ever imagined upon their first meeting,” LeDuff said. “I’ve had students tell me that everyone should be required to do this assignment. I remind them that we are fortunate to have this forum for discussion, but that they can take the conversation beyond the classroom.”