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Student and Academic Affairs Collaborate to Advance Campus Diversity
Barbara Greenstein, Intern, Office of Education and Diversity Initiatives, AAC&U


As colleges and universities plan for changes in the next millennium, many have come to recognize the need for cross-institutional collaborations. Many institutions are also working to integrate and institutionalize their diversity efforts. Too often, diversity initiatives have been stand-alone efforts or programs proposed and delivered by one office or division of the institution.

In her book, Diversity Works (AAC&U, 1997), Daryl Smith has argued that "comprehensive commitment to the value and significance of campus diversity is key," that "this commitment must pervade the institution from senior administration through faculty and staff," and that positive outcomes result when students perceive their campus to be strongly committed to diversity. To help institutions implement these kinds of institution-wide changes, AAC&U and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) recently co-sponsored an institute called, "Diversity: A Catalyst for Institutional Collaboration." The institute, held in June 1999, brought together teams of academic affairs administrators, faculty, student affairs administrators, and students from 17 campuses to deepen the impact of existing diversity initiatives and to develop more collaborative planning in order to create effective multicultural learning environments for all students.

Teams at various stages of diversity work attended the institute. Some were just beginning. Others had multiple diversity efforts under way including Diversity Task Forces, Multicultural Offices and Coordinators, diversity curricula and requirements, diversity performance goals, and staff training programs. Everyone, however, believed that more work was needed.

Teams at the institute sought to do more than just bridge traditional institutional divides. They deepened their understandings about the complexity of campus diversity and developed ways to move beyond one-shot programs to structurally infuse diversity into the very fabric of their institutional lives. They worked to create frameworks, plans, processes, and strategies to begin new collaborations on campus focused on increasing the commitment to the educational value of diversity.

One participating institution, Mount St. Mary's College is developing a new Center for Intercultural Development, led by two Co-Directors, one from student affairs and one from academic affairs. This Center will develop curricular and co-curricular initiatives. It will also support curricular change, encourage and support student and faculty research, and strengthen minority student recruitment and retention. It is hoped that the collaborative structure of the center will contribute to institutional change in three ways: (1) faculty will achieve a greater understanding of student culture and learning opportunities beyond the classroom; (2) student affairs staff will learn about curriculum transformation and be able to apply the field's insights to their own work; and (3) both sides will collaborate on diversity initiatives that capitalize on and integrate students' in-class and out-of-class experiences. Other participating institutions are developing a variety of institutional structures like this one to encourage more coordination and thus more effective diversity initiatives. As they become more developed, participating institutions will be sharing information about these structures on the "Institution Profiles" section of Diversity Web.

Creating entirely new institutional structures is certainly not easy. It requires truly creative thinking about new structures, relationships, and partnerships. A final institute session was designed to unleash some of that creativity. Participating teams created visual representations of the new campus ethos needed for institutional collaboration. In reviewing the various works of art, several themes emerged. Each team seemed to be striving to capture new sorts of relationships, new avenues to inclusion, connection, transformation, growth, strength, understanding, hope, humor, and play. They created a host of visual metaphors to help them envision new institutional structures to bring people together rather than keeping them apart. This task allowed teams to "think outside the box" and more comprehensively about what it means to collaborate on issues like campus diversity. The participants left the institute with a better understanding of how to encourage collaboration, additional ideas about encouraging more dialogue across campus, and a more coherent campus plan for diversity.


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