Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 3

Download our print issue (PDF)
Faculty Involvement
Science, Diversity, and Global Learning: Untangling Complex Problems
Breaking the Pyramid: Putting Science in the Core
Geologic Science for Global Citizenship: Under the Radar, but on the Web
Science and Global Learning at Carnegie Mellon University
Campus-Community Connections
Science and Citizenship: Habits of Mind for Global Understanding
Curricular Transformation
Connecting Global Learning and Science Education in the General Education Curriculum
Science, Gender, and the Environment
Student Experience
Seeing the World Around You
Institutional Leadership
Developing a Scalable, Sustainable Campus Diversity Initiative
Resources for Science, Diversity, and Global Learning

Developing a Scalable, Sustainable Campus Diversity Initiative

By Susan G. Forman, University Professor, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Editor’s note: Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey was one of eight institutions to participate in the New Jersey Campus Diversity Initiative (NJCDI). Launched in 2002 with funding from the Allen and Joan Bildner Family Foundation, NJCDI promoted intercultural learning and inclusive excellence. The initiative’s work is described in detail in the previous issue of Diversity Digest (volume 9, number 2, 2005).

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey is a large, public, multicampus research university with a diverse student body. During the 1990s Rutgers did much to ensure that the campus community had an opportunity to learn about differences. The university’s diversity work could be found in undergraduate majors, minors, and courses; in cocurricular programming for students and the larger community sponsored by faculty and professional staff units; and in special interest housing for students. The organizational structure of the university also demonstrated a diversity of designs in the form of academic programs, academic departments, centers and institutes, staff offices, and student associations focused on issues of many individual cultural groups.

From Cultural Literacy to Intercultural Interactions

Despite the scope and depth of this diversity work, some administrators and faculty members were concerned that many students were using these activities, programs, and structures as a way of learning about their own culture, but not others. Although students from a variety of cultural backgrounds felt comfortable at Rutgers, there was a lack of cross-cultural participation in the majority of our culture-related programs, and a lack of intercultural interaction among our students.

Paradoxically, Rutgers had created a situation in which students had so many opportunities to stay in familiar and comfortable cultural contexts that they may well have had little incentive to look outward. There was also concern that, despite a great deal of diversity activity across the university, the lack of connection between many of these efforts diluted their impact on students and the larger community.

In order to address these issues, a university-wide task force appointed by the vice president for academic affairs and chaired by the vice president for undergraduate education examined the status of multicultural issues in the curriculum. The task force concluded that the university needed to go beyond its emphasis on increasing student knowledge about individual cultures by increasing student understanding of cultural groups in relation to one another, of intercultural interaction, and of ways to promote positive, productive interactions. A call for proposals from the Bildner Family Foundation, issued shortly after the multicultural curriculum task force issued its report, provided Rutgers with an excellent opportunity to obtain resources to support change efforts that had been identified as important by the university community.

Mixing Intercultural and Sustainability Goals

Sustainability quickly surfaced as a primary concern. As a research university, Rutgers was keenly aware of the problem sustaining grant-funded programs. Numerous innovative projects that improve the undergraduate student experience are developed each year at universities across the nation; however, even when these projects are successful, many do not last beyond their pilot stage. Scalability and sustainability remain unsolved problems. Rutgers was determined to address both by developing a project that would ensure a legacy of intercultural activity and learning.

The university involved numerous faculty members, professional staff, and administrators in developing the project proposal. Brainstorming and planning sessions first included potential stakeholders, and then branched out as a result of the ideas generated to include others who would be involved in implementation. In order to ensure broad knowledge of and support for implementation on all Rutgers campuses, the vice president for undergraduate education formed a leadership committee consisting of the project leader for each campus and key administrators in the central administration. In addition, we organized an intercultural steering committee for each campus, with representation from a broad array of stakeholders and individuals whose support would be crucial for project success.

Members of the steering committees included deans, department chairs, faculty members, student life professional staff, and directors of cultural centers who provided regular input to the leadership group and were provided with feedback describing how their advice was used in project implementation. We used a variety of campus communication vehicles to publicize project activity, including letters to deans, faculty, and professional staff, articles in the faculty/staff newsletter and the student newspaper, and verbal reports to a variety of groups involved in university governance and management.

Intercultural Faculty Fellows

Our major vehicle for curriculum change was the appointment of intercultural faculty fellows who were expected to revise courses to focus on intercultural interactions. The fellows received a stipend, participated in faculty development seminars, and received technical assistance with assessing the outcomes of their work. We addressed the sustainability and scalability of the fellows’ work through our selection criteria for the fellows. In addition to relevance to program objectives, clarity of project plan, soundness of proposed course or curriculum changes, and innovativeness, a peer review committee examined each prospective fellow’s proposal for potential impact on students and the number of students the fellow’s work would reach. Proposals were also evaluated for their potential link with our introductory writing course, the only course required of all Rutgers students and one that had been recently revised to address intercultural issues.

Rather than developing new “boutique” courses that might not be maintained after termination of the grant funds, we were interested in funding changes in existing large-enrollment courses or in the existing curricula of majors. We also wanted to support changes that would make issues of intercultural interaction central to the undergraduate experience by establishing links between the various parts of the curriculum. To further broaden and deepen the impact of the fellows’ work, we developed a process for bringing student life professional staff together with the fellows and funded student life programs directly connected to the course.

Our project reached thousands of students through multiple academic and student life venues and was both scalable and sustainable. By thinking about scalability and sustainability from the proposal-writing stage of the project, we have been able to ensure diversity and intercultural interaction each are central to the undergraduate curriculum, permeate the undergraduate experience, and are deeply embedded in the Rutgers community.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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