LAST DECADE, RESEARCHERS HAVE STARTED TO DEVELOP A MORE COMPREHENSIVE
AND DYNAMIC BLUEPRINT FOR CONCEPTUALLY UNDERSTANDING DIVERSITY IN
OUR COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES. WITHIN THIS CONTEXT, ONE AREA RECEIVING
MUCH ATTENTION IS THE CAMPUS CLIMATE FOR DIVERSITY. IN STUDYING
CAMPUS CLIMATE, RESEARCHERS HAVE IDENTIFIED FOUR CRUCIAL INFLUENCES:
HISTORICAL, STRUCTURAL, BEHAVIORAL, AND PSYCHOLOGICAL (HURTADO ET
dimension speaks to a legacy of inclusion or exclusion of different
groups from a campus. Structural diversity refers to a number of
factors such as campus demographics, recruitment and retention policies
and procedures, academic and social support structures, financial
aid/scholarship programs, and ethnic/racial student organizations.
and psychological components, or campus intergroup relations, are
those aspects of the institution that contribute to a positive or
hostile environment for different groups. This includes perceptions
by faculty, staff, and students about discrimination on campus,
attitudes about diversity, acts of insensitivity, heated and uncivil
debates around issues of diversity, classroom discussions about
minority groups based on misinformation or stereotypes, verbal attacks
against members of different groups, hate crimes, racist or sexist
computer jokes, and many other factors that influence campus intergroup
some colleges and universities have also started to address campus
intergroup relations in a purposeful way. The University of Michigan,
for example, has for over a decade administered an intergroup dialogue
program both for credit and non-credit, designed to bring groups
of students from different backgrounds together to create greater
understanding and reduce intergroup conflict. Based on this model,
other institutions including the Universities of Washington, Illinois,
Maryland, and Massachusetts have created similar programs.
Relations at Arizona State University
University (ASU) has followed suit. Like most campuses, ASU has
been periodically plagued by negative intergroup relations. The
Campus Environment Team (CET), a presidentially appointed team of
faculty, staff, and students, was created to address campus climate
issues and to serve as a proactive force on campus to prevent acts
of insensitivity, deal with issues of free speech, and promote an
environment that values and respects diversity.
and other initiatives, during the 1995-1996 academic year ASU was
once again disrupted by a series of assaults and acts of insensitivity
directed at members of the African American community and other
student groups. The tension and conflict surrounding these incidents
led to the formation of Students Against Discrimination (SAD). In
addition to organizing a series of campus rallies and protests against
the incidents, SAD formulated a list of recommendations for dealing
with intergroup incidents and conflict. One of those suggestions
resulted in the establishment of the Intergroup Relations Center
The Intergroup Relations Center is a comprehensive, multipurpose,
inclusive, fully staffed and funded, action-oriented center created
to work with faculty, staff, and students to improve campus intergroup
relations and the overall campus climate. The six staff members
of the Center are charged with working on intergroup issues related
to race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, nationality, disability
status, religion, socioeconomic status, and other dimensions of
diversity. In addition, center staff work on intergroup relations
training and education, intergroup conflict de-escalation (both
in and out of the classroom), community building between different
groups, intergroup relations research, consulting on issues of diversity,
developing diversity educational resources, and advocacy around
issues of diversity.
Since its inception
five years ago, the staff of the IRC have organized approximately
500 diversity workshops for faculty, staff, and students; two “campus
climate for diversity” summits designed to bring together the ASU
community to examine and find solutions to issues of diversity;
two annual conferences for ASU faculty and teaching assistants focusing
on issues of diversity in the classroom; and four faculty diversity
The IRC has
also administered a 500-student per year intergroup dialogue program
(based on the University of Michigan model), two women’s retreats
designed to create social consciousness among ASU women, five intergroup
relations training retreats (eighty participants per retreat) for
student leaders, a women’s program that uses story circles for examining
and learning about diversity, and a staff intergroup dialogue program.
IRC has created and disseminated an anti-hate campaign. The campaign
has spread throughout the campus via the use of flyers, buttons,
bumperstickers, cards, logos, banners, and the web. The staff of
the Center has also worked diligently to prepare for spontaneous
intergroup conflicts and has been involved in successfully de-escalating
several incidents related to prejudice, discrimination, hatred,
and insensitivity. It increases its effectiveness by partnering
with many campuses and community groups.
As we reflect back on the Center’s first five years, there are several
lessons that we have learned. First, it is important that the IRC
be a physical embodiment of a university’s level of commitment to
diversity. On many campuses, the historical, structural, and campus
intergroup aspects of the campus climate are too often addressed
via volunteer groups, low cost celebratory and largely symbolic
programs, and underfunded and understaffed offices.
the campus climate for diversity requires more than just lip service.
It also requires the investment of fiscal and staff resources in
order to maximize success.
in higher education suggests that in order for diversity efforts
to succeed it is important to have the support of high-ranking administrators.
For five years, the IRC has had strong support from the president
of ASU, the provost, and other administrators throughout the institution.
Moreover, the IRC is directly connected to the Office of the Provost,
conveying to the campus community the importance of the Center’s
and reflecting on the work of the Center has been critical. All
IRC programs are assessed using both quantitative and qualitative
methods and changed, improved, or eliminated on the basis of those
creating the IRC, we have used a campaign approach as opposed to
following a strategic plan (Hirschhorn & May 2000). Using a campaign
strategy has allowed us to be more flexible, experiment with a variety
of diversity programs and approaches, work to include people from
many different backgrounds, and move quickly.
administrators at ASU have long supported a multiplicity of structural
diversity initiatives. We have both a Multicultural Student Center
and an Intergroup Relations Center. The former primarily addresses
issues of structural diversity, the latter focuses on improving
campus intergroup relations. There is clearly a need to have both
types of initiatives on a campus.
In sum, we
believe that the IRC represents a new model in higher education
for addressing campus climate issues. Other universities have developed
similar initiatives including the Center on Diversity and Community
at the University of Oregon and the Intergroup Relations Center
at California State University, Sacramento.
Six years ago,
Students Against Discrimination provided the impetus for the IRC.
Students themselves modeled what power could be derived by working
across differences for positive common ends.
Center continues to be inspired by students’ belief that it is possible
to create a campus climate that promotes respect, dignity, and worth
Hirschhorn, L. and May, L. 2000. The campaign approach to change:
Targeting the university’s scarcest resources. Change, May/June,
J. F. Milem, A. R. Clayton-Pedersen, and W. R Allen. 1999. Enacting
diverse learning environments: improving the campus climate for
racial/ethnic diversity. ASHE/ERIC Higher Education Reports Series
ASU Intergroup Relations Center