Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Campus-Community Involvement
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

Forging Campus-Community Connections: Scholars and Students Shedding Light on the New Newark

By Clement Alexander Price, Board of Governors’ Distinguished Service Professor of History and director of the Rutgers Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Newark



When the Rutgers Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience began its work in 1997, local testimony, memory, and history served as the basis for its first public program, “Memory and Newark: July 1967.” Mounted in commemoration of Newark’s near rendezvous with disaster—the so-called riots during the summer of 1967—the program dramatized the value of looking at diversity through the perspectives of participants and eyewitnesses to this historic event. The institute’s original vision and its subsequent successes are direct expressions of a campus community that witnessed the traumatic events of 1967 and, as a result, became more sensitive to the opportunities and challenges posed both by the city itself and by the campus’s multicultural students, many of whom came from the very community in crisis.

A generation after 1967, Rutgers–Newark has now been recognized nationally for the ninth consecutive year as the most diverse campus by U.S. News and World Report. This designation does not measure the number of minority students, but rather speaks of the great number of distinct ethnic, cultural, and religious groups represented in our student body. Our undergraduate students find themselves on an American campus particularly attuned to the social dynamics of its host community. These undergraduates, many of them children of recent immigrants or recent immigrants themselves, find their way to Rutgers–Newark from around the world. An estimated 40 percent speak a language other than English at home. They come to us from over fifty nations, representing the major immigrant populations in northern New Jersey from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South-Central and Eastern Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa. As the city is changing demographically and culturally, diversity is once again a fact of life and a pathway to the future.

Such a rich array of bearers of seemingly distant cultural narratives on a campus in the heart of Newark provides an opportunity to foster an institutional transformation that reflects both campus life and community engagement. The institute believes that true institutional change and campus cultural development are best rooted in faculty commitment to the enhancement of our campus’s engagement with diversity, the sustenance of a culture of tolerance and inquiry, and the nurturing of a generation of academic citizens who are at once public intellectuals and conversant with new knowledge on the construction of difference.

Toward those objectives, the institute has worked with faculty members so they can have a significant impact on the lives of their students through mentoring, shared research initiatives, and mutual engagement in civic life, while also shedding a nuanced light on cultural differences and values. Funding from the Bildner New Jersey Campus Diversity Initiative supported several institute public programs as well as productive collaborations with student groups, faculty, and other academic programs focused on cultural values, ethnic identity, and historical development. However, our most far-reaching achievement has been increasing faculty involvement in public scholarship. Through their deep engagement, faculty in turn have helped their students navigate through the complex cultural maze of our changing society.

Funding from the Bildner Family Foundation supported, in particular, two interrelated responses to the realities of cultural diversity on campus and Newark’s contemporary cultural transformation. The institute’s many public programs and lectures addressed local cultural diversity, while its commitment to nurturing a cohort of junior faculty members—our Bildner Faculty Fellows—placed the cultural changes wrought by immigration to postindustrial Newark on a research agenda studied by faculty members and their students. Using oral history testimony as well as other research methodologies and entering communities all but ignored in the past, Bildner Faculty Fellows are arguably the largest group of Rutgers–Newark scholars ever assembled to study, commemorate, and explain the life of the city’s residents. For instance, Professor Kim Holton, by employing ethnographic methods, explores the ways in which two immigrant communities—old-world and colonial Portuguese and new-world Brazilian—bound by a colonial history and a common language, negotiate shared urban space and new immigrant beginnings in Newark’s East Ward “Ironbound” neighborhood. Professor Max Hermann has documented memories of Newark residents tragically caught up in the riots of 1967. And Professor Tim Raphael and his students have taken oral testimony into the realm of contemporary theater with a production entitled Something to Declare: Tales of Immigration. Drawing on their own eclectic cultural backgrounds and experiences as the starting point for their work, students approached Newark and its surrounding environs as a laboratory for intercultural and interdisciplinary exploration.

Never before have so many members of the faculty drawn their students into the work of understanding Newark’s cultural mosaic. These colleagues are involved in public scholarship in the broadest sense. Together, they help fulfill the mission of providing service to the community. Moreover, unlike scholars with a more traditional corpus of activities, the institute’s public scholars help to demystify new knowledge and create an opportunity for a cross-section of citizens to take part in lifelong learning.


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