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Diversity Trainer Jane Elliott Coming to Doane College

Elliott Will Speak on Diversity Training and Her Famous ‘Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes' Exercise

Jane Elliott, a teacher and lecturer whose "Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes" exercise is cited as "a landmark of social science," will speak at Doane Thursday, Feb. 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Heckman Auditorium.

She will visit a Doane class and have dinner with students before her presentation on diversity programming and the "Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes" exercise.

Elliott's "Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes" discrimination exercise is considered by some the pinnacle of diversity programming in the country today. Adapted to explore the nature of racism and prejudice in the days following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, it became a defining moment of her life's work.

Then a school teacher in Riceville, Iowa, Elliott used the exercise based on eye color and superiority in her elementary classroom. Elliott first told her students that brown eyes indicated superiority in intelligence and rewarded it with classroom privileges and status. The next day, she reversed the exercise, elevating blue eyes and their superiority. The results were emotional and provocative and quickly drew national attention - as well as the anger of her hometown.

Over the years, Elliott became a lecturer and diversity trainer.  Several television documentaries have covered her work, including:

  • n ABC's "The Eye of the Storm," which won the Peabody Award
  • n "A Class Divided," which dealt with the long-term impact of the exercise and Elliott's work with adults. It was broadcast nationally on PBS's "Frontline" series
  • n "The Eye of the Beholder," which also dealt with adults and their reactions to discrimination.

Both of the latter films received an Emmy Award.

Elliott is a recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education. She has been a guest lecturer at numerous colleges and universities and a guest on such television shows as "The Today Show," the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, and "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Her presentation is sponsored by Doane's Hansen Leadership program.