CIC Holds Inaugural Institute on Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts

Campus teams from 26 CIC member colleges and universities gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, June 3–6, for the inaugural Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts Institute. Generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute was designed to help faculty members and academic and student affairs administrators address issues of conflict, activism, and inclusion on America’s college campuses.

“A central theme of the Institute,” said CIC President Richard Ekman, “was that insights from the liberal arts can be used to address thorny social and educational issues with reason and grace.” With that goal in mind, Institute participants spent four days engaging with leading scholars of history, economics, social psychology, political philosophy, religious studies, literature, linguistics, and higher education. The presenters focused on the application of essential research in their fields to help inform campus discussions about student identity, intolerance and inequality, histories of discrimination, inclusive pedagogy, and effective strategies for achieving social and political change.

Participants worked on detailed plans to apply the content of the Institute to specific challenges facing their institutions, including changes to the curriculum, advising and counseling services, and co-curricular activities. Wendy Morris, associate dean of faculty development at McDaniel College (MD), stated, “We greatly appreciate the information and resources that we gained… and we anticipate moving forward on our [campus] plans now even better informed and inspired by the Institute.”

Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College (GA) and a nationally recognized authority on race in America, served as Institute director. She led participants through the themes of the Institute, encouraging them to focus on the practical and lasting changes they can bring to their campuses once the Institute is over.

presenter stands beside project screen in front of seated participants
Political philosopher Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, addressed the role of philosophy in promoting conversations about diversity on campus.

Opening sessions set the stage for later discussions by providing an overview of students today and into the future. Nathan Grawe, Ada M. Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Social Sciences at Carleton College, explored the decline in new high school graduates and the uneven geographic distribution of (potential) first-generation and minority college students. Cathy Davidson, founding director of the Futures Initiative at the CUNY Graduate Center, described changes in teaching practices in American higher education over time and recent initiatives to reshape pedagogy for a digital world.

Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, president emerita of Kalamazoo College (MI), discussed a case study of activism, disruptive protests, online threats, crisis management, and deliberative change on one small college campus. She described a series of escalating protests and threats at Kalamazoo in 2015 as “a perfect storm” and an indicator of activities that might transpire on other campuses. The college’s response, with the support of an empathetic board and alumni, was a firm rejection of direct threats and an ongoing effort to “give students the practical tools to confront [social change]” and “develop open spaces for evidence-based debates and creative solutions.”

three photos: 1. two presenters speak to each other gesturing with hands; 2. three participants discuss key topics; 3. participants view exhibit on Jim Crow laws
(From left to right) Beverly Daniel Tatum, Institute director and president emerita of Spelman College (GA), converses with presenter James Peterman, professor of philosophy and director of civic engagement at Sewanee: The University of the South (TN). Roger Williams University (RI) Chief Diversity Officer Ame Lambert and Provost (now Interim President) Andrew Workman discussed key topics with institutional teammates. The Institute included an excursion to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.

In addressing the theme of “identities and fairness,” Tatum discussed the social construction of identity and the psychological process of identity formation that many students undergo during their college years. “There’s a long history of not being supposed to talk about race [and other identities],” she reminded participants, “but then we ask college students to discuss it—which can be a painful process for both students and faculty members.” Tatum described an alphabetical strategy for engaging students in the exploration of their own identities: Affirming identity, Building community, and Cultivating leadership. “As one’s [own] definition of identity expands,” she concluded, “it becomes easier to move past stereotypes” about other identities and practice “generous listening.”

Eboo Patel, the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, followed with a presentation that focused on conflicting religious identities. And Allan Metcalf, professor of English at MacMurray College (IL) and long-time executive secretary of the American Dialectic Society, offered a linguist’s perspective on issues of difference and identity.

Political philosopher Danielle Allen, Conant University Professor at Harvard University, also focused closely on the meaning of words during a whirlwind review of major philosophical approaches. She urged liberal arts colleges to reclaim and strengthen civics education, because so many entering students “don’t have the tools for sorting out different political positions.”

During sessions focused on social change and civility, David Blight, Class of 1954 Professor American History at Yale University, used the words and biography of 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass to explore the possibility of a “unified historical narrative” of the United States. He also offered other thinkers and historians as models for approaching history with “humility, which is not so much in evidence today.” Craig Wilder, Barton L. Weller Professor of History at MIT, followed with case studies of historical racism on American college campuses—including slavery at Georgetown University and anti-Native American attitudes at Dartmouth College—and more recent efforts to uncover and reconcile these histories in the present.

Two Institute sessions focused on opportunities for social change at the classroom level. Geoff Cohen, James G. March Professor of Organization Studies in Education and Business at Stanford University, discussed specific interventions that can help sensitize students and instructors to difference, undermine stereotypes, build trust and a sense of belonging, and affirm the potential of students from diverse backgrounds. A panel discussion on intergroup relations (IGR), a structured approach to discussing group differences pioneered at the University of Michigan, followed. Kristie Ford, professor of sociology at Skidmore College and a leading researcher and practitioner of IGR, described a multi-stage process designed to encourage deep reflection and dialogue: training faculty and students to serve as facilitators; enrolling small, credit-bearing courses composed of balanced numbers of students from two different social identity groups that have a history of conflict; and leading semester-long dialogues co-facilitated by a trained student and faculty member.

Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran speaks with two participants
During the Institute, Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran (right), president emerita of Kalamazoo College (MI), described episodes of student unrest and her institution’s response.

The Institute concluded with the institutional teams gathering in small groups to discuss follow-up steps for their campuses and preparations for reporting back to the group as a whole. These plans include offering new training programs for faculty and staff, general education courses built around themes of diversity and inclusion, projects to confront difficult campus histories, and institutional free speech policies. For Institute resources, such as the reading list, visit the 2018 Institute site.

Through a competitive application process, CIC will select about 25 institutions to participate in the second Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts Institute, which will take place in Atlanta, Georgia, June 2–5, 2019. The application deadline is November 14, 2018. For more information, visit the 2019 Institute site.

2018 Diversity, Civility, and The Liberal Arts Institute Participating Institutions

​Andrews University (MI)
Butler University (IN)
Campbell University (NC)
College of Saint Benedict (MN)*
Dominican University (IL)
Emerson College (MA)
Goucher College (MD)
Ithaca College (NY)
John Brown University (AR)
Kenyon College (OH)
Linfield College (OR)
Lynchburg University (VA)
McDaniel College (MD)
​Ripon College (WI)
Roger Williams University (RI)
Saint John’s University (MN)*
Sewanee: The University of the South (TN)
Simmons University (MA)
Talladega College (AL)
Texas Lutheran University
Thiel College (PA)
University of Richmond (VA)
Ursinus College (PA)
Wesleyan College (GA)
Whitworth University (WA)
Wilkes University (PA)

*Joint team


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