Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Prof defines multiculturalism in U.S. as tolerance of diversity

The United States is one of the world’s most tolerant nations, political science Prof. William Reno said Wednesday during a lecture at the Multicultural Center called “What the Heck is Multiculturalism at NU?”

“It is a strange country,” Reno said. “Other countries are more exclusionary than the United States. Differences in the United States are not as explosive as they are abroad.”

Reno spoke to about 25 students during the event, which was sponsored by the Multicultural Center.

Addressing multiculturalism in a broad context, Reno focused on its general meaning.

“What I see in my own observation is that multiculturalism changes a lot over time,” he said. “‘What is multiculturalism?’ can have a lot of answers.”

Reno defined multiculturalism in America as a tolerance of diversity, but not as assimilation. He also said multiculturalism means allowing oneself to be defined in different ways.

“The core value in U.S. society is a toleration for difference,” he said.

Reno also said Americans generally do not distinguish between native and foreign-born Americans.

“Lots of ethnic identities overlap,” he said. “People are always looking back at history, and they keep reinventing themselves. In the last 20 years it has become much easier to become a dual citizen.”

Reno’s research into multiculturalism has taken him to Russia, Nigeria, Asia and other places. He said in classes he cites places where intolerance has caused friction and violence to teach students the benefits of tolerance.

“What I would preach to the intolerants is, ‘Why do you care?'” he said. “What is the threat?”

Reno’s lecture was the latest in a series of events sponsored by the Multicultural Center that give students opportunities to discuss multiculturalism at NU.

Mary Desler, assistant vice president for student affairs, said she believes multiculturalism is vital to NU.

“The dilemma is, how do you honor and maintain individual and group values but at the same time find ways for people to come together?” she said. “I think it’s finding ways to value everybody’s values. The fun comes in when everyone comes together.”

Desler has helped organize dinners that bring various student groups together to discuss multiculturalism. She said she plans to continue organizing dinners next quarter.

Art Janik, president of the Multicultural Advisory Board, invited Reno to speak because of the professor’s extensive work with multiculturalism.

“Professor Reno offers an interesting perspective because of his worldly experience and because he has done so much research,” said Janik, a Medill junior. “These types of discussions make you think about new and different cultures. You don’t always have to say, ‘I’m German’ or, ‘I’m Italian.’ You can say so many different things – that could include a religion or being part of a Greek house.”

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Prof defines multiculturalism in U.S. as tolerance of diversity