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Summer 02
Institutional Vision and Leadership
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Tackling Campus Intergroup Relations: The Intergroup Relations Center at Arizona State University
By Jesús Treviño, Associate Provost for Diversity, University of Denver and Former Director, Intergroup Relations Center at ASU and Kris Ewing, Assistant Director, Intergroup Relations Center at ASU



The historical 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.

The behavioral 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 relations.

More recently, 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.

Intergroup Relations at Arizona State University
Arizona State 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.

Despite this 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 (IRC).

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 training institutes.

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.

In addition, 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.

Lessons Learned
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.

Addressing 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.

Second, research 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 work.

Third, assessing 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 evaluations.

Fourth, in 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.

And finally, 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.

ASU’s Intergroup Center continues to be inspired by students’ belief that it is possible to create a campus climate that promotes respect, dignity, and worth for everyone.

Hirschhorn, L. and May, L. 2000. The campaign approach to change: Targeting the university’s scarcest resources. Change, May/June, 31-37.

Hurtado, S., 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 26.

ASU Intergroup Relations Center




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