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communication tips Campus-Community Study-Dialogues on Race Planned for Fall
Natalie Johnson, Project Coordinator, and Maria Maisto, Project Assistant, AAC&U

Racial Legacies and Learning: An American Dialogue, AAC&U’s latest national initiative on campus diversity, is supporting more than 50 colleges and universities, and advising scores of others, in sponsoring campus-community study-dialogues to explore how higher education can work with its local communities to prepare graduates to address the legacies of racism and the opportunities for racial reconciliation in the United States.

At institutions large and small, public and private, urban and rural, administrators, faculty members, students, and local community leaders are coming together to plan a variety of Fall events. Many campus events will coincide with the release of results from a national poll on public attitudes toward campus diversity scheduled for October 6th. Racial Legacies and Learning programs range from grassroots community projects and conversations to high profile, public forums on race, education, and the role and function of media. Events will include young children and teens involved in mentoring and tutoring programs, current college students taking or preparing to take courses developed as part of the Racial Legacies program, alumni reflecting on the racial legacies of their alma maters, and much more. Community partners involved in the project range from local houses of worship and community centers to chapters of national organizations like the Urban League and the National Conference for Community and Justice. Common to all of these rich and varied programs and participants is a commitment to understanding local and national racial legacies better and to creating more opportunities for campus and community learning about race.

Campus-Community Dialogues

Racial Legacies and Learning is in part based on the fundamental conviction that dialogue is a starting point for social change. Almost every campus involved in this project is organizing some form of campus-community forum for discussion. Many schools are building on successful models initiated during the Campus Week of Dialogue on Race this past Spring. Other campuses are trying out new approaches as a result of continuing efforts to learn about effective facilitation of difficult dialogues and the management of intergroup dynamics. The project is developing and providing resources to campuses to help facilitate productive dialogues. For information about these resources, including the videotape “Why Can’t We Talk About Race?,” visit the Racial Legacies and Learning page on DiversityWeb (http://www.inform.umd.edu/ diversityweb/breaking.html).

Partnerships with Community and Business Groups

Many Racial Legacies and Learning campuses are using this opportunity to build stronger connections to a wider array of local community groups, each of whom has a stake in how higher education is preparing students to deal with questions of race.

In some cases, campus-community connections are being advanced and supported by top leadership. In Seattle, building on an existing program called “It’s Time to Talk,” sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, local college presidents will be hosting a series of dinners at their homes at which individuals from campus and the local community will come together with a trained facilitator to talk about issues of race. Business leaders are also being encouraged to contribute their voices to the dialogue. Many business leaders are explaining why diversity is important in their workplaces and what they need colleges and universities to do to prepare students for them.

Partnerships with Younger Students

Understanding that learning about racial legacies and reconciliation must begin earlier than college, some Racial Legacies campuses are also focusing on building bridges between colleges and local schools. Many Racial Legacies schools have active partnerships with local high schools or are building them as part of Racial Legacies programs. Tutoring and mentoring programs are at the core of many of these efforts, but some schools are also trying to involve younger students in innovative ways. California State University-Los Angeles is organizing a community-wide meeting of youth leaders representing eight separate communities within the city of Los Angeles. By being involved from the beginning in planning the project’s final event--a youth leadership conference in October-- California State hopes to impart valuable lessons about the challenges, responsibilities, and rewards of exercising leadership on issues important to their local communities. Through a new course, “Vital Issues: Interracial Dialogue and Action,” students from the McGregor School at Antioch University, will provide local school districts with original teaching materials to advance race relations.

Partnerships with Media

The University of Massachusetts-Boston and San Francisco State University are planning to focus their Fall events around the release of the national poll results on October 6th. They will be holding public forums to discuss the historic role of the media in shaping public attitudes about race and the enormous potential the media has for promoting dialogue and reconciliation, and for helping to educate the public about higher education’s essential role in preparing students to help build stronger multiracial communities.

Partnerships with Communities of Worship

Cardinal Newman once famously remarked that it is not always possible to convert someone by an argument. Recognizing that learning and reconciliation are also at heart a matter of conversion and faith, a large number of campuses are uniting with local communities of worship to join hearts with heads and hands. These faith communities are partnering with Racial Legacies colleges and universities to strengthen existing service programs and to create new opportunities for communion between and among different faith communities. Students from Yale Divinity School, for instance, are organizing events to honor local lay leadership for their sustained commitment to ending racism and to developing new strategies to support racial reconciliation.

Curriculum and Faculty Development

Other campuses in the project are developing or enhancing curriculum and faculty development efforts to enhance student learning about race. Incorporating some of the innovative dialogue strategies developed in their campus-community dialogues, these campuses are also strengthening their curricula about race. These courses will be lasting vehicles through which students can learn about our nationšs racial legacies and can develop the necessary skills to continue productive dialogues about race in their own communities and workplaces.

Many campuses are still finalizing plans for their Fall events. To learn more about the project, national poll results, project resources, or schools involved in your region, visit DiversityWeb at http://www.diversityweb.org/ breaking.html

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Television Race Initiative

Beginning September 15th, your TV can be an instrument to improve race relations. The Television Race Initiative, a project of the PBS Point of View series will highlight independent film makers who are documenting pro-active, constructive approaches to enhancing race relations. Family Name, a film by Macky Alston, will inaugurate the series. Alston, of Raleigh, North Carolina, attempts to uncover the relationships between the black and white members of his community who share the same family name, Alston.

For additional information about this project or about the broadcast of Family Name, please consult the PBS website: http://www.pbs.org/pov.

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