Colleen Dunne-Cascio uses research into her own racial and cultural identity to better serve students at EOU
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7 January 2009
LA GRANDE, Ore. (EOU) - Standing before a conference of her peers, Colleen Dunne-Cascio rallied the courage to share her research into a very personal subject: her racial identity.
Dunne-Cascio was invited to give a presentation at the annual conference of the Northwest Association of Student Affairs Professionals in October. As the director of Student Relations at Eastern Oregon University, Dunne-Cascio assists staff with multiple facets of student life on campus, including operation of the Multicultural Student Center at EOU. Part of her job is to understand how to face issues of cultural and racial identity.
Dunne-Cascio chose to research herself for her capstone project at Indiana State University. She completed a graduate program via distance learning and received her master's in student affairs and higher education from ISU in August.
"We need to look at ourselves and be honest before we look at others," Dunne-Cascio said. "I researched myself and recognized my 'isms.' Everyone has ideologies and it can be difficult to acknowledge them, but I needed to know who I was as an individual before I could understand how other people feel."
Dunne-Cascio's interest in the broad topic of cultural identity was first piqued when Angelo Gomez gave a presentation at EOU during opening session for fall term 2007. Gomez is the director of the Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity office at Oregon State University.
"Angelo said Caucasians are often perceived as the oppressor," Dunne-Cascio recalls. "That hit me hard and I asked myself, 'what do I need to do to make a change?'"
From then on, Dunne-Cascio became increasingly engaged. During her graduate studies, she delved into several theories related to cultural identity. Ultimately she chose to focus her project on the model developed by Janet Helms.
Helms is the author of numerous publications on racial identity and is a professor at Boston College, specializing in racial identity, psychological testing and assessment, racial and cultural counseling and psychotherapy.
With her research paper complete, Dunne-Cascio presented it to her professor and classmates at ISU using a web cam.
The feedback was positive and the next thing she knew, she was behind the podium talking about "White Identity Development in a Multicultural Age" to members of NWASAP. It was her first conference presentation.
"I was nervous because I didn't know how the audience would receive the topic," Dunne-Cascio said.
When she finished, a man in the front row stood up and Dunne-Cascio felt her heart skip a beat. Had he been offended by something she said? She need not have worried, because when he opened his mouth to speak, it was to say her conference presentation was the best he'd ever heard.
"Afterward, one of the conference officiators congratulated me for having the courage to talk about a difficult subject," Dunne-Cascio said. "It was very emotional for me."
Out of the 25 presentations delivered, NWASAP members voted Dunne-Cascio's the best-the Presentation of the Conference-and she was invited back to present her topic next year.
Dunne-Cascio said she will use her newfound sense of self to better serve the students at EOU. She recently gave a presentation to the Student Affairs staff, asking each to take a self-assessing racial identity survey and take time for personal reflection.
"We're here for the students' success," Dunne-Cascio said, "and to do that, we must promote inclusiveness and understanding of self and others."
EOU's weeklong celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will begin with a presentation by Dunne-Cascio on Monday, Jan. 12 in the Hoke Union Building, Room 309.
She will give another presentation on Thursday, Jan. 22 in Hoke 201, marking the beginning of the university's observance of Black History Month in February. Both presentations begin at 12 p.m. and are open to the public.
Dunne-Cascio plans to submit her research paper for publication in a forthcoming special edition of the national journal, "Reflections," focusing on issues of privilege.
For more information on activities scheduled for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month, contact the Multicultural Student Center at (541) 962-3741.
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