The opportunity for diverse colleagues to be paired together as an opportunity for personal growth and friendship is not just a unique programming option, but an opportunity allowing faculty and staff to step away from their daily responsibilities and re-think their personal and professional worlds.
When listening to conversations about Partnerships in Pluralism, it is not unusual to hear the questions, “Who has time?” “What can I gain from this?” “What is the purpose?” Perhaps the question that might be more appropriate is: Who cannot afford to participate?
A 1999 Gallup study regarding employee engagement highlights several key factors in creating an atmosphere of an effective work environment. These factors include having someone at work who seems to care about employees and encourages their development, having a best friend at work or having opportunities to grow. People who participate in Partnerships in Pluralism indicate in evaluations that the program contributes to these kinds of experiences.
Partnerships in Pluralism was originally implemented at RIT in 2004. The program was created to help people of different backgrounds become familiar with each other, both personally and in light of broader cultural differences. In 2007, Alfreda Brown noted: “Cultural differences are both reality and perception. Individuals view cultures (not their own) as different, mysterious and sometimes in a positive or negative light. . . . RIT’s Partnerships in Pluralism Program . . . has become a way to bridge reality and perception.”
Partnerships in Pluralism intends to bring together diverse faculty and staff for one‐on‐one conversations centered on who they are as individuals. Thus, participants are able to gain insight as to how each contributes to the culturally enriched community of which RIT is comprised.
The interaction takes place in large group sessions, smaller working groups with coaches and for individuals as they are paired for one-on-one meetings. For bi‐monthly meetings, the pairs are given talking points as conversation starters. As they progress through the program, they will pass through four phases designed to explore more in-depth topics surrounding diversity, their differences and similarities.
Partners are selected each year based on various personal and demographic characteristics, including race/ethnicity, department affiliation, job position, faculty rank and discipline. Great care is taken to consider functions or status of participants. Participants volunteer for the duration of the program, allowing learning to unfold over time. This year, some intentional choices were made to reduce the time of the program (to six months, beginning in January and ending in June) and alter the kinds of questions and educational scenarios that partners might discuss. The emerging social “fabric” of trust and understanding can enhance the community spirit, unify our campus and increase our efficiency and effectiveness when serving students in the living, learning and working environments.
Even since its inception, Partnerships in Pluralism has maintained its meaning and relevance. According to Kevin McDonald, RIT chief diversity officer: “Partnerships in Pluralism provides a wonderful opportunity for participants to engage in meaningful dialogue that will lead to a greater understanding of individual similarities and differences. These exchanges will positively impact RIT environments, because the most productive environments are the ones in which different perspectives, talents and abilities are allowed and enabled to interact to create an enhanced result.”
John Dewey is quoted saying: “Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” In essence, Partnerships in Pluralism creates an avenue whereby life and education intersect.
Faculty and staff may still sign up through Dec. 22 by registering at clipboard.rit.edu/take.cfm?sid=F8B31016.
Mike D’Arcangelo is coordinator of upper-class initiatives, Student Affairs. “Viewpoints” presents insight and opinions on issues of relevance to RIT or higher education generally. To suggest a topic for a future essay, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.