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

Why Allen and Joan Bildner and the Bildner Family Foundation Funded a Statewide Diversity Initiative

A conversation between Allen I. Bildner, president of the Bildner Family Foundation, and Caryn McTighe Musil, project director of the New Jersey Campus Diversity Initiative and senior vice president for diversity, equity, and global initiatives, AAC&U

Allen and Joan Bildner

Allen and Joan Bildner

Musil: Why should anyone care about promoting intergroup understanding? As long as we don’t bother one another, why do we need to understand or engage across differences?

Bildner: Whether here in New Jersey or elsewhere in our nation or the world, we are dependent on people different from ourselves in both our personal and business lives. How is it possible for us to interact without understanding our personal differences?

We are, for instance, already on our way to 2050 in demographic population change that will result in one of every two Americans being people of color—Latinos, Asian American/Pacific Islanders, African Americans, and Native Americans. If we cannot live and work together and follow and lead people different from ourselves, we are in for a world and life of conflict.

Musil: You are a successful businessman with a lifelong investment in the well-being of New Jersey. How did those facts influence you?

Bildner: New Jersey’s speed of demographic change has been very great, and this has been true of supermarket costumers and the workforce. As a businessman and the chairman and CEO of Kings Super Markets, I am very sensitive to the diversity among my company’s customers, associates, and employees. The company sought to build a culture that valued and respected differences. We developed orientations, training, policies, and accountability that rewarded and reinforced our commitment to diversity. By doing that, we achieved greater teamwork, two-way communication, and productivity, and an enormous competitive advantage. Kings’s well-known culture attracted a waiting list of recruits, especially young people who wanted to join the company.

Musil: You have talked publicly about your personal experiences and indicated eliminating bigotry was no abstract matter. Can you talk more about that?

Bildner: When my mom and dad moved our family from Long Island to a New Jersey suburban community in 1936, I entered fifth grade. Before that time, I had never experienced anti-Semitism. Within the first week of school, two of my classmates beat me up on the way home from school, yelling, “Go home Jew boy. Go home rabbi.” I went home crying and didn’t understand it.

Right through elementary and junior high school, I was a top student, class officer, vice president of the senior class, president of the student body, and all-state athlete. However, my achievements and the respect I had earned did not mean that I would be invited to enter ballroom-dancing school or that parents would allow me to date their daughters when they found out I was Jewish.

It took me years to realize that being Jewish was not my problem, but that of the bigots that I encountered. It taught me that you don’t have to be Jewish, African American, Latino, Asian American, or any other minority to fully understand how dehumanizing and demeaning prejudice and bigotry are—but it sure helps.

Later in life, when Joan and I were married, we would be in a business or social setting and sometimes hear people making anti-Semitic jokes or comments because Bildner is not a typical Jewish name. Joan always interjected quickly, “You may not be aware that we are Jewish.” Perhaps our response was enlightening.

Things are better today for Jews and minorities, but bigotry and prejudice are alive and well. When we have recounted our own personal experience with anti-Semitism to others, especially white, non-Jews who have known us, they are shocked. Talking about these experiences opens eyes and minds to the personal realities of prejudice and bigotry.

Musil: You and your wife Joan thought long and hard about how to structure this initiative to have the greatest impact. Can you talk about the evolution of your decision to organize it as you did?

Bildner: Peter Karoff, founder of the Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) in Boston, began to serve Joan and me as our philanthropic consultant many years ago. When we first met Peter, he argued that charity was giving money, and philanthropy was about effecting change.

In 1991, Joan and I created an endowment at my alma mater, Dartmouth College, for human and intergroup relations and prejudice reduction designed to bring about comprehensive change with respect to diversity. That reinforced for us the obligation and enormous opportunities of colleges and universities to influence the next generations. We then turned to higher education in New Jersey as a locus of attention.

We retained Peter Karoff and his TPI associate, Joanne Duhl, to research and study higher education elsewhere in our country. The most important information we learned from them was about the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), which has years of leadership in diversity working with hundreds of its member institutions.

Joan and I had decided to make a set number of three-year grants totaling no more than $75,000 per year to a few colleges and universities in our state. We invited every college and university in New Jersey to submit a proposal. Of the forty-seven institutions invited, twenty-seven submitted proposals. We soon realized we could not undertake this statewide venture alone. We needed AAC&U as our consultants and partners and Joanne Duhl and TPI as managers. We also invited a blue ribbon committee of advisers to review proposals and select the eight finalists.

From the very beginning, we entered into a firm agreement with each of the colleges and universities, laying out our expectations and the conditions under which the funding would proceed during each year of the grants.

During the second year we decided that the presidents and top academic and student affairs leaders were too removed on some campuses from what was actually going on in the work of their teams in what we had named the New Jersey Campus Diversity Initiative. So we invited the presidents to meet in the fall, and six months later, we brought them back again but also invited vice presidents for students and academic affairs officers to a separate meeting that same day. Galvanizing top leaders proved critical.

Musil: What advice would you give to a college that says it wants to promote intergroup understanding and reduce prejudice and bigotry?

Bildner: A college or university should not undertake such an effort unless the president is willing to drive the engine with support from the board and from other top administrators and academic leaders. My experience has taught me that diversity is the only responsibility a CEO cannot delegate fully and for which he or she must continue to bear responsibility. The president should surround him or herself with a small group of administrators, faculty, and student affairs leaders to research diversity practices at other institutions. If I were the president, I would immediately turn to AAC&U for assistance and consultation.

Musil: I know that Diversity Digest readers wish that every state had an Allen and Joan Bildner—or dozens of them. How might readers identify people like you and Joan in their state?

Bildner: They should look to foundations with a mission that includes diversity and prejudice reduction and for leaders in business or other areas with a history of fighting prejudice and bigotry and a demonstrated interest in higher education. It is also possible that a college or university capital campaign that identifies diversity as a priority might discover an alumnus or alumni with the capacity to fund it.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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