Partnerships in Pluralism: Re-creating RIT’s Business Case for Diversity
In her foundational book, Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education (1990), Darryl G. Smith establishes a paradigm regarding the integral and evolving role of diversity in the modern university governance, teaching, and its social milieu. Critical to her thesis is the idea that education (diversity education) can and should play a major role in fostering the kind of climate and relations between groups that encourages success for the increasing numbers of:
- Gay & Bisexual, and
- veteran populations.
The size of these emerging five populations occurs simultaneously, in addition to the ever present and powerful populations of deaf/hard of hearing, international, and religious populations remain a staple of the RIT’s traditions and identity.
The changing campus environment
All of these students increasingly migrate their way to RIT, thus creating a truly (and subsequently increasingly) multicultural environment; this campus environment is thus more capable of generating sophisticated world views among its students, as well a culture of innovation and social elevation. These increases are not unique to RIT; they are instead, a reflection of the country’s population. For example, the US Census Data (2015) informs us that by the year 2020, the combined minority infants in the US will (for that for age range) the racial majority of that segment of children. Similarly, CNN (2008) reports that by the year 2050, combined adult minorities in the US are expected to be the majority of American citizens, when compared to the Caucasian population.
A key issue
As this incremental growth of racial populations occurs, the resulting campus dynamics may not easy to navigate by faculty or staff. Therefore, you might ask, what are some of the programs in which we can partake that help us to channel the new multicultural environment of the university’s landscape?
As a statement that is almost crafted to answer this question, Scott Long (n.d.) identifies genuine dialogue as a key vehicle by which people are able to “overcome differences, find common ground, and build meaning & purpose, and set directions together” (p. 1). This astute observation leads us to a diversity education program that is designed to address these shifting cultural norms.
Partnerships that make a difference
In 2005, RIT authored and created a program, Partnerships in Pluralism. The program was created at the directive of then President, Albert J. Simone. Partnerships is designed to promote dialogue among community members at RIT. This program was also designed to both improve the climate and intergroup relations that Darryl Smith poignantly proposed. Partnerships has since, lived up to its purpose. Past participants have reported that the program is:
- a great way to meet people whom they would not generally get to know;
- an increased capacity to both ask and answer questions about their partner’s differences;
- the opportunity to discuss our similarities that bind us together.
It is evident that in this program, dialogue is the heart of understanding – and change. Partnerships in Pluralism is an interactive platform that allows:
- faculty and staff of uncommon demographic backgrounds,
- to be paired for at least a semester,
- with the intention of exploring their cultural differences, and
- developing appropriate communication skills to do so.
Partners who participate each year, are provided a menu of activities, first and foremost: prompting questions outlined and distributed to each pair of faculty/staff, for them in turn to pose to each other. The open ended nature of the questions allows each pair to explore their racial or cultural backgrounds, past cultural trends and the subsequent expectations. In addition to their questions, each pair may choose to attend a variety of dialogue-based diversity education programs (Race Talks and Hot Topics) for a broader exposure to cultural issues. Furthermore, they may view diversity-themed videos, or read various current event articles which pose critical thinking activities in their dialogue. Finally, each pair is assigned to a ‘cluster’ or group, designed to facilitate diversity lessons, and stimulate dialogue in a more robust manner.
In the end, the goal of Partnerships in Pluralism is for each paired set of associates to foster a deeper understanding of their partner, a broader set of discovery skills by which to a engage future ‘partners’ whose paths they may come across, a foundation by which nurtured diversity can foster innovation (Page, 2007), and a vehicle by which they can see the world differently.
CNN (2008). Minorities expected to be majority in 2050. Retrieved on March 12, 2018 from: http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/08/13/census.minorities/
London, S. (n.d.) The power of dialogue. Retrieved on March 12, 2018 from: http://www.scottlondon.com/articles/ondialogue.html.
Page, S. E (2007) The Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Smith, D. G. (2008). Diversity’s promise for higher education. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
US Census (2015). Projections of the size and composition of the U.S. population: 2014 to 2060. Retrieved on March 12, 2018 from: https://census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/demo/p25-1143.pdf