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

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 2
(2006)

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Connections
Intercultural Learning for Inclusive Excellence
Why Allen and Joan Bildner and the Bildner Family Foundation Funded a Statewide Diversity Initiative
Learning to Listen as We Lead
Institutional Models That Cultivate Comprehensive Change
Curricular Transformation
Where Worlds Converge
Curricular Transformation through Collaborative Teaching
Intercultural Learning in First-Year Seminars
Research
Designing Intercultural and Cross-cultural Spaces
Enhancing Collaborative Leadership of Faculty and Staff
Faculty-Driven Curricular Change
Diversity as Shared Practice
Dialogue Groups at Princeton University Library
Faculty Involvement
Epistles, Posters, and Pizza
Forging Campus-Community Connections
"Beyond Food"
Cross-cultural by Design
Student Experience
Something to Declare
Putting Student Voices in Public Spaces
Café Bergen
Institutional Leadership and Committment
Assessing Diversity Attitudes in First-Year Students
Infusing Cultural Competency into Health Professions Education

Intercultural Learning for Inclusive Excellence

By Edgar Beckham, senior fellow, AAC&U

A recent headline in Education Life heralds “The Changing Face of Diversity.” It describes dramatic demographic changes at the University of California–Berkeley and reports the concerns of some Asian students about their numerical dominance. While an astute reader can readily interpolate a connection between demographic diversity and educational benefit, the text itself is of little help. It is as though the face of diversity, which reveals its numbers, were its only significant feature.

The tendency to reduce the value of diversity to demographic quantifications is most likely an unintended consequence of the civil rights movement, which emphasized racial and ethnic disparities as the most obvious and persuasive manifestation of social injustice. But the tendency may also result from a binary habit of mind that compels us to favor simple choices over combinations, either/or over both/and. Some of the most committed advocates of social justice fear that locating the value of diversity in another arena may diminish the power of their moral argument.

On the contrary, an exclusive focus on an abstraction like social justice without some grounding in a reality that entertains concrete social outcomes may be counterproductive. Just imagine being informed by your surgeon soon after you are rolled out of the surgical suite that she had successfully pursued social justice. A member of a minority group cognizant of disparities in health care might take some comfort in the pronouncement, but would likely want additional information beyond that single fact.

The New Jersey Campus Diversity Initiative (NJCDI) has provided a refreshing example of the added power that can result from aligning moral arguments with strategic interventions that promise practical value. The example is particularly pertinent to education for two reasons. First, since education has long been associated with both moral principle and practical outcomes, it offers a fertile environment for nurturing the alignment. Second, there is growing evidence that while demographic diversity offers a compelling marker for the pursuit of social justice, its contribution to education is greatly enhanced by educational strategies that exploit its catalytic potential and put it to focused use.

NJCDI was launched in 2002 with funding from the Allen and Joan Bildner Family Foundation, which provided three years of funding for eight institutions in New Jersey. The Bildners had for many years sought to fund a project to reduce bigotry and improve intergroup relations. They had used the services of the Philanthropic Initiative, an organization that helps donors refine their philanthropic goals and develop a strategy for more effective giving. In 2002 the Bildners invited the Association of Amerian Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) to occupy the third side of the triangular formation that would guide the initiative. AAC&U brought years of experience developing and assessing diversity projects and promoting their congruence with the aims of democracy and liberal education.

As thoughtful as the preparations were, it was the work of the campuses that gave voice and visibility to the aspirations of the initiative. Much of that work is described in rich detail in the articles that follow. There are many lessons worthy of attention—about design, implementation, and assessment and about the roles of students, faculty, institutional leaders, and communities. Two lessons have been selected for some elaboration here because of their centrality to the initiative’s work.

The first, labeled “intercultural learning,” calls attention to the imperative that diversity education benefit all students. At NJCDI institutions, students have learned about diversity together—they have learned about themselves and others, not only from each other, but in an educational context that they share in common with each other.

The second, “making excellence inclusive,” emphasizes an educational outcome that also embraces all students. As AAC&U turns its attention increasingly to this new formulation and examines the research that supports its goals, it is becoming increasingly evident that diversity, intercultural learning, and inclusive excellence depend on each other for meaning, moral value, and social significance.

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