Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Student Experience
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Connections
Intercultural Learning for Inclusive Excellence
Why Allen and Joan Bildner and the Bildner Family Foundation Funded a Statewide Diversity Initiative
Learning to Listen as We Lead
Institutional Models That Cultivate Comprehensive Change
Curricular Transformation
Where Worlds Converge
Curricular Transformation through Collaborative Teaching
Intercultural Learning in First-Year Seminars
Designing Intercultural and Cross-cultural Spaces
Enhancing Collaborative Leadership of Faculty and Staff
Faculty-Driven Curricular Change
Diversity as Shared Practice
Dialogue Groups at Princeton University Library
Faculty Involvement
Epistles, Posters, and Pizza
Forging Campus-Community Connections
"Beyond Food"
Cross-cultural by Design
Student Experience
Something to Declare
Putting Student Voices in Public Spaces
Café Bergen
Institutional Leadership and Committment
Assessing Diversity Attitudes in First-Year Students
Infusing Cultural Competency into Health Professions Education

Putting Student Voices in Public Spaces

By Thomas Molski, director of the Office of Campus Life, Don Phelps, associate director of the Office of Campus Life, and Jill Schennum, assistant professor of anthropology, all from County College of Morris

While students are expected to voice their opinions in classrooms, it is also important to cultivate student voices in other public forums on campus. At County College of Morris (CCM), we have encouraged such voices over the past three years through student diversity conferences. At these conferences, it is the students who have done the teaching.

Students defined diversity as much more than race and ethnicity. Panelists, for example, discussed class barriers to success at CCM, including the paucity of public transportation, problematic tuition-payment schedules, and the cost of textbooks.

The conferences were developed through the Bildner New Jersey Campus Diversity Initiative (NJCDI). We designed them to help us reach one of our defined goals in the project: increasing interactively planned community education efforts to promote diversity and global awareness. Our organizing committee included representatives from the Office of Campus Life and the Office of Dean of Student Development as well as faculty members. Since a common complaint in the first year of the diversity initiative was that planned events failed to attract large audiences, we decided to organize the first conference as a forum to work with student groups, faculty, and staff to discuss new strategies for collaboratively planning diversity-oriented cocurricular educational events. We made use of interinstitutional networks developed through CCM’s participation in the NJCDI and invited a keynote speaker from Rutgers. The conference ended with a moderated panel of diverse CCM students discussing their perception of events related to diversity and the campus climate.

The conference was well attended and well received, but the overwhelming highlight for participants was the student panel at the end of the conference. Faculty felt that the student panel provided a unique opportunity to hear a diverse cross-section of CCM students speak about their experiences of diversity at home and at college and about their impressions of diversity education on campus.

This request for more opportunities to hear student voices about diversity affirmed findings about the current level of diversity education on campus. Although students and faculty had many positive things to say about campus climate and education at CCM, there were also areas that needed substantial work. Therefore, in the second conference, which was organized around student perceptions of diversity education and campus climate at CCM, we provided more opportunities for student voices and faculty-student dialogue. Rather than focusing on student group leaders (as we had in the first conference), we put together a panel of average CCM students. By scheduling the conference to coordinate with CCM’s class schedule, we enabled a wider group of CCM students to attend.

The second conference was even more successful than the first. As organizers, we did face the challenge of preparing students who were not especially academically engaged or politically active for participation in the panel. Faculty moderators met with students to review the questions they would be asked, to ask them to think about their responses prior to the conference, and to explain the rules that would guide panel participation. The result was an articulate, thoughtful group of panelists.

In a well-moderated panel, students defined diversity as much more than race and ethnicity. Panelists, for example, discussed class barriers to success at CCM, including the paucity of public transportation, problematic tuition-payment schedules, and the cost of textbooks. Students also raised questions about the difficulty that undocumented immigrants had with admissions and financial aid, as well as challenges that GLBT students encountered on campus. Breakout sessions in which faculty, staff, and students engaged in dialogue led to heated discussion of topics brought up by the student panel. Top-level administrators attending the conference heard student concerns about class barriers to success. This conference encouraged students, staff, faculty, and administrators to think about diversity practice and education in the classroom, campus climate, and some of the structural barriers to success embedded in other institutional offices.

For our third diversity conference, student voices were paired with voices from the wider community. We selected and scheduled our keynote speaker in conjunction with a broader Morris County–based community initiative, invited diverse community members to the conference, and included a group of high school students from Morris County to join the student panel. This mixed student panel demonstrated the diverse background of high school students coming into CCM, the different gender roles and cultural expectations students had to negotiate between school and home, and the difference between the more narrow definition of diversity coming from the high school students and the broader, more politicized understanding of diversity among the college students.

We carried away numerous lessons from these three conferences. We found that having staff and faculty work together to plan the conferences established ties between various college offices, facilitating future collaboration. Although initially we had assumed that faculty would be engaged by “expert” voices, we discovered that CCM faculty wanted to hear student voices describing their perceptions of campus climate and classroom practices as well as wider structural barriers. We also learned that a well-planned and moderated student panel can push students to think about and articulate their impressions of complex diversity issues, and that faculty and staff are open to hearing from their own students. We found that it was important to involve the highest levels of the administration in these conferences (conferences were attended by the president, vice president for academic affairs, vice president of student development and enrollment management). Most importantly, we learned that students themselves possess the most convincing voices to persuade faculty and staff of the need for and the value of a robust diversity education.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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