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Regional Partnerships Help Schools Deepen Diversity Learning
Linda Trompetter, Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Associate Professor of Philosophy, College Misericordia

Northeastern Pennsylvania has formed a Diversity Education Consortium. This might surprise some SINCE THE region has a very small population of color, but multicultural education isn't only for students of color, Dr. Sonia Nieto has argued that, "All students are miseducated if they receive only a partial education...multicultural education is about all people and for all people...without it students from the dominant culture think of themselves as the norm and all others as a deviation from that norm." This consortium is designed to help colleges, universities, and their community partners challenge this misperception about who needs diversity education.

At an early planning session for the consortium, an African-American mother remarked about her experience living in northeastern Pennsylvania: "We need to stop planning and do something now! I worry for the safety of my sons when they go to McDonald's on their own." The founders of this consortium had many other experiences like this one to inspire us to act together. We had looked with anger and astonishment at swastikas painted on a local synagogue. We had listened with disbelief about "practical jokes" played on an African-American worker in the public works department.

Many people in our communities lack comfort with, and understanding of, cultural and racial differences. Many citizens and even educational and civic leaders have not reacted well to our growing Latino, Haitian, and African-American communities. Though there have been many thoughtful responses as well, those of us working in colleges and universities to educate students about these issues have come to realize that diversity education requires sustained and pervasive effort, only possible in a region such as ours through cooperative community efforts.

We believed that we simply did not have the luxury of letting things take their own course. Powerful, pervasive, and collaborative action is necessary in order to foster better education, more economic growth, and more satisfying living conditions for all the citizens of our region. For these reasons, we formed the Northeastern Pennsylvania Diversity Education Consortium.

Colleges and universities in northeastern Pennsylvania are not much different from many small liberal arts institutions that exist in other predominately white communities. Because we knew that it would be difficult to convince leaders in this region that diversity education is not a luxury, or something appropriate only in areas with large minority populations, we decided that we would be more powerful as a consortium. We also felt that it was our role to support an environment on and off campus which more adequately represented the multicultural world in which most people live.

In 1993, College Misericordia decided to support a Diversity Institute. A 40-member advisory board provides a venue for two-and four-year colleges and universities, business representatives, representatives from minority groups, and people from social justice groups to meet on a regular basis and pool their efforts and resources for diversity education. Out of this has grown a one week, residential diversity camp to train high school students to be ambassadors for change.

The Diversity Institute at College Misericordia, with the support of the presidents from University of Scranton, Kings College, Marywood University, and Wilkes University, has received funding from the Foundation for Independent Higher Education to plan for a consortium of educational institutions to facilitate diversity education initiatives throughout the region. We sponsored a "Day of Action Planning" on regional diversity issues.

The planning group included representatives from the five private colleges as well as two public colleges, Penn State/Wilkes-Barre and Luzerne County Community College. They were joined by representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the regional Economic Development Council, the Peace Center, the NAACP, the Interfaith Council, Children's Service Center, the Jewish Community Center, and many others, including several public school districts.

Most recently, the original seven colleges and universities have been joined by Keystone College and Penn State/Worthington as well as three large area school districts--Wilkes-Barre Area, Wyoming Valley West, and Dallas Area. Each institution has committed $3,000 a year to support the consortium. The consortium is committed to a goal of creating a more inclusive, dynamic culture in our region.

We plan to do this by infusing the curricula of all of the colleges and the three school districts with diversity education initiatives. We are also building alliances between institutions which have been historically isolated from one another, such as traditional community and service groups, social justice groups, public school systems, the business community, and minority communities.

Our partnerships have already begun to strengthen efforts both on campus and in the community to educate students and citizens about the local history and current circumstances related to the region's diversity. The consortium is also educating about the value of diversity to the region. Our efforts are definitely more effective for being collaborative across so many institutional lines.

For information about the Northeastern PA Diversity Education Consortium, contact Linda Trompetter, College Misericordia, Dallas, PA, 18612; (ltrompet@miseri.edu).

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Communication tips

When a small college or university in a region that is not racially diverse makes a commitment to diversity education, it may be newsworthy. Generating coverage of a new diversity education program can offer experts a chance to underscore that diversity education benefits all students, and is essential to a good education.

The community's experience with swastikas and racially-motivated "practical jokes" may provide a news hook to generate editorial coverage. Think about drafting an op/ed or guest editorial on the new program and why it is necessary. Consider the potential signers or co-signers for the op/ed; they might include advisory board members such as business leaders, professors, students, university officials, or others. Approach editors at a local mainstream, student or ethnic newspaper about whether they would be willing to publish this kind of op/ed or, as an alternative, generate their own editorial about why diversity education is important to every community.