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DIVERSITY EXHIBITION TEACHES "ALL OF US ARE RELATED, EACH OF US IS UNIQUE"

While discussing diversity during his annual State of the Union Address in January, President Bill Clinton cited a distinguished scientist’s claim that humans are 99.9 percent the same genetically, regardless of "race." Considering their differences, Republicans and Democrats looked at each other and laughed. "We can laugh about this, but you think about it," Clinton said. "Modern science has confirmed what ancient faiths have always taught: The most important fact of life is our common humanity."

Clinton’s words came to life at SU’s Schine Student Center in February with the controversial exhibition All of Us Are Related, Each of Us Is Unique. The 18 panels of graphics, photos, and text tell of a common ancestry among all humans and demonstrate that race exists as a social construct rather than a biological fact. For example, one panel shows the continuity in how human appearances vary, and how those variations create an illusion of separate categories of human beings. While many people accept the DNA-based scientific findings on superficial, phenotypic differences, others remain unaware of them or challenge the evidence. "We want to open up the discourse," says Marshall Segall, professor emeritus of social and political psychology. "We want the discourse to include the fact that most people didn’t know–until this exhibit told them–that, for the human race, there are no biological races."

Credit Segall with creating the English version of the display. The original exhibition, developed by a team of European geneticists and anthropologists, debuted in Paris in 1994. After seeing the exhibition in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1996, Segall visited the authors and received permission to translate it from French to English for an American audience. "I was bowled over by the exhibition," Segall says. "It was the first time I was confronted by biological evidence that clearly demonstrated what a lot of social scientists have believed for many years–namely, that there are no such things as biological races in the sense that most people use the term ‘race.’"

Segall sought support for the exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution, but it declined, due to the controversial content. "I am not surprised that it generates some distress in people who see it," he says. "It’s such a new way of thinking about our identities." Segall, however, had no problem convincing Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw to bring the exhibition to campus. "He said: ‘Controversy. What’s a university for?’" Segall recalls.

The exhibition made its American debut at SU in January 1998 with support from the Office of Student Activities and the College of Arts and Sciences. After its Syracuse run, the exhibition traveled as far as Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia, before returning for its most recent campus showing.

Barry L. Wells, vice president for student affairs and dean of student relations, hopes the exhibition improves students’ attitudes about diversity. "I want students to think in more complex ways about issues of race and ethnicity and to avoid cultural stereotypes," he says.



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Marshall Segall, professor emeritus of social and political psychology, was instrumental in creating the English version of the controversial exhibition All of Us Are Related, Each of Us Is Unique, which explores the common ancestry of humankind.

Professors from a range of departments held classes in the exhibition room and incorporated the display into assignments. School of Education graduate student MaryBeth Bargabos wrote about the panels for her elementary social studies methods class. While Bargabos found a class discussion on the exhibition interesting, she formed her own opinion. "The ideas in the exhibition seem like common sense," she says.

The exhibition was also the topic of a campus forum in which students and faculty shared their opinions and challenged its ideas. "It achieves its purpose if it inspires people to participate in the dialogue on race, " Segall says.

Segall and others are now considering mass-producing the exhibition so it can be displayed simultaneously at high schools, public libraries, museums, and colleges and universities. Segall also hopes to mount the exhibition at the University’s Lubin House in New York City and Greenberg House in Washington, D.C., and would like to see showings arranged by SU alumni groups around the world. "SU has a resource in this exhibition," Segall says. "It constitutes a potentially major contribution to the discourse on diversity in the United States."
                                        —STACEY FELSEN



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