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An MSU instructor and a team of journalism students debunk stereotypes to increase understanding of cultural differences.

Last year, an MSU School of Journalism class researched and published a book titled
“100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans.” As the name implies, it was designed to dispel biases and stereotypes about Muslim Americans.

And the timing couldn’t have been better.

Muslims, who have lived in the United States since its earliest days, have encountered new challenges in the 21st century. The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and more recent events around the world have put American Muslims in a double bind in which they feel targeted for their nationality as Americans and for their religion as Muslims.

A mid-December poll by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed most respondents supported religious freedom. However, support varied depending on the religion in question. Eighty-two percent said religious protections were important for Christians, compared with just 61 percent who said the same for Muslims.

“During this national debate, Americans need information, facts and research,” says MSU journalism instructor Joe Grimm, whose class created the book about Muslim Americans. “That is what journalism should provide.”

INSTILLING CULTURAL COMPETENCE

In Grimm’s aptly named Bias Busters class, students have researched, written, and edited a series of books or guides that pose questions—100 per book—that help people learn about the people they interact with nearly every day, including those with a different skin color, language or culture—everything from the food they eat to the clothes they wear.

“The questions are basic and simple,” says Grimm, a former Detroit Free Press editor. “But they come from real people. They’re the questions people actually wonder about.”

Grimm and his students aren’t new to the publishing game. In the spring of 2012, students in a class he taught wrote and produced “The New Bullying,” a website, paperback and e-book available on Nook, Kindle, iPads and smartphones.

The digital edition of the book on Muslim Americans, originally published in January 2015, was re-released in December on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Google Play. Making the guide available was a collaboration among the MSU School of Journalism, the Detroit Free Press and the guide’s publisher, Front Edge Publishing.

For most of the books in the series, MSU students did the bulk of the writing and research, interviewing people of different races, cultures and backgrounds and asking what basic questions they routinely hear in everyday conversation. The goal: To replace guesses and stereotypes with accurate, authoritative answers.

“The questions are at the heart of the guide,” Grimm says. “We interview people to find out what questions they hear about themselves and what they wish others knew. Those drive our research. We respect the people we write about and the people who want to learn about them.”

Answers are verified through many sources, including professors, community leaders, the Pew Research Center, journalism associations and others.

REPORTING REALITY

The idea for the cultural competency books began more than 20 years ago when Grimm was the recruiting and development editor for the Detroit Free Press. He recognized a need for reporters to know more about the different cultures they encounter on their beats.

Because the Detroit area has a large population of Arab Americans, Grimm created “100 Questions and Answers about Arab Americans.” The guide proved to be popular and went into several editions.

When Grimm moved to Michigan State, he saw the books as an opportunity for students to hone a number of skills—interviewing, tracking down sources, and writing and editing.

“Journalistically, it’s excellent training to have people do cross-cultural interviews,” he says. “For them to publish something, have their work on Amazon, is a great thing.

“Although,” he adds, “the real goal is not just to produce books. The point is to create communities of people beyond MSU that understand each other better.”

The guides have proved particularly useful to journalism students and reporters, but also are helpful to college students in general, as the number of international students on American campuses tops 1 million, according to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan ordered custom copies of a new guide about veterans for the launch of its resource center on Veterans Day, 2015.

In the fall of 2015, as protests about race occurred in cities and campuses, students created a guide busting biases about African Americans, which will be released early in 2016. It will be followed by a guide about American Jews, which is nearly complete.

What next? Grimm would like to see a guide about U.S. immigrants published during the presidential election year. He also is interested in having some of the books reprinted in languages other than English.

Individuals interested in the Bias Busters books may contact Grimm at jgrimm@msu.edu.
Follow the Bias Busters blog at news.jrn.msu.edu/culturalcompetence.

Bias Busters Interactive Quiz

Test your cultural competency.

The questions below are taken directly from the books written by Grimm’s Bias Busters students.

Bias Busters Interactive Quiz