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

Learning to Listen as We Lead

By Matthew Reed, division dean of liberal arts, County College of Morris

The County College of Morris (CCM) used its Bildner Family Foundation grant to spur a campus-wide conversation about ways to take diversity more seriously in every aspect of the college’s operations. While the primary focus was always curricular change, the project quickly grew beyond that. The productive surprise of the initial campus conversations was that it taught us new ways of listening across silos.

Under the leadership of former Vice President for Academic Affairs Cliff Wood, CCM’s project rewarded initiative across the college. The most ambitious goal was curricular innovation. Wood therefore established diversity task forces in each of the three academic divisions (liberal arts; business, math, engineering, and technology; and health and natural sciences) to assess the current state of diversity in courses and to suggest a plan of action. He also used the faculty professional days at the start of each semester to bring speakers on diversity-related topics, such as religion and race, to campus.

As the grant continued, the task forces reported an unanticipated state of affairs: diversity awareness among faculty was relatively strong, but resentment was building over a sense that diversity was being “shoved down their throats.” Taking these findings to heart, the administration shifted the strategy to cultivating bottom-up initiatives, and used Bildner funding for faculty stipends to undertake (and report on) diversity-related projects in their own classes. This approach, which bore fruit in the final year of the grant, resulted in some wonderfully creative moments in the classroom. Just as importantly, it decentralized the discussion of diversity, allowing faculty in various disciplines to figure out what it meant for them. The faculty projects have been collected, compiled, copied, and distributed to the entire CCM faculty.

On the student side, the division of student development, under the leadership of Bette Simmons, hosted three annual student diversity conferences, which are described in another article in this Digest issue. The conferences, in which faculty participated as facilitators and audience, gave the faculty and the college community a window into student perceptions of diversity at CCM. Among other things, it became clear that some of the primary concerns among students didn’t match those of the faculty: students were more concerned with cross-cultural commerce, for example, than the civil rights movement. We also found that many majority students perceive the absence of discussion as a sign of contentment, rather than as a problem. These insights were invaluable for faculty and administrators in bridging the generational divide.

We also convened a community diversity advisory group to gain some needed outside perspective. That group, which drew on local community organizations, helped provide momentum for bringing the diversity conversation to bear on other elements of our operations, such as tuition payment plans. The board also facilitated outreach to local groups—for example, Bildner funds paid for a CCM professor to address minority teens at a local settlement house.

Despite changes in the leadership at top levels and rotating leadership at mid-level project work, there has been sustained support throughout. Nowhere is that clearer that in President Yaw’s unflagging commitment to diversity. Paradoxically, committed leadership at the top made possible the diffusion of initiative over time. By setting a direction and making resources available for people to move in that direction, CCM struck a nice balance between coherence and creativity.

What Can Other Colleges Take from Our Experience?

First, take seriously the issue of faculty (or other) resistance. If a project is perceived as entirely top-down, those at the bottom may simply drag their feet, rather than internalize the priority. When we shifted focus from large-group lectures to individual projects, the quality of the conversation vastly improved, and issues of coercion and resistance became moot.

Second, listen to the students. At our campus, one of the refrains at every student diversity conference was that extracurricular activities are great, but impractical; our students have jobs, and they have to leave for their jobs after classes. If we’re going to reach them, it has to be in the classroom.

Third, there is a key difference between administrative leadership and administrative ownership. If the faculty and students don’t own meaningful parts of the process, any gains will be ephemeral. Leaders need to show a commitment to the general direction of diversity efforts, but allow the college community to figure out exactly how to achieve the desired ends.

Finally, even though what goes on in the classroom is crucial, don’t forget to take a look at your other operations. Some very frank discussions about tuition payment plans and public bus routes emerged in our community advisory board meetings. Classroom instruction only matters if the students can actually make it to class.

The Bildner New Jersey Campus Diversity Initiative offered an opportunity to infuse diversity into the curriculum, which we expected, but it also taught the college to look at itself in new ways. The cross-silo conversations engendered by the grant, and the new habits of listening, will benefit CCM and its students long after the specific grant-funded project ends.

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