Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts Institute Highlights Pedagogy of Inclusion

David Blight standing at podium with three speakers seated at head table
(From right to left) David Blight of Yale University, Julian M. Hayter of the University of Richmond (VA), Jeffrey Makala of Furman University (SC), and Vivia A. Fowler of Wesleyan College (GA) discussing how to confront difficult histories on campus.

Teams from 25 CIC member institutions gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, June 2–5, for the second and final Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts Institute. The Institute was designed to address the increasing diversity on college campuses, challenges to free speech, and students’ concerns about social and political change with the most powerful resource available to independent colleges and universities—teaching and learning in the liberal arts. The Institute was generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Institutional teams composed of faculty members and administrators shared ideas and engaged with leading scholars in the humanities and social sciences. Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College (GA) and distinguished scholar of race in America, served as the Institute’s director.

Several presenters linked demographic change and new approaches to inclusion on campus. Julie Park, associate professor of higher education at the University of Maryland, demonstrated that while most campuses rightly claim to be more diverse now than at any previous time, diversity in higher education as a whole lags behind the rapidly changing demographics of American society. Park suggested that, in this cultural climate, it is important to add the concept of anti-racism to diversity and civility to assure that colleges are truly inclusive.

Eboo Patel, the founder of Interfaith Youth Core and co- director of CIC’s Teaching Interfaith Understanding seminars, emphasized that in a time of demographic change, effective democracy requires the ability to negotiate religious difference. “There are religious dimensions to American diversity and diversity dimensions to American religion,” he said while noting that many American colleges and universities, including several represented at the Institute, were founded by distinctive religious communities and now welcome students from a wide range of faith traditions. He encouraged participants to claim their own institutional identities and histories with pride while “building bridges to those who claim other identities and histories.”

Several sessions addressed the link between student identities and academic achievement. For example, Geoffrey Cohen, professor of education and psychology at Stanford University, showed how educators can use “situation crafting” and values affirmation exercises to reduce stereotype threat and create a sense of academic belonging for students of diverse backgrounds. His presentation included a review of current research and practical advice for classroom instructors.

Other presenters introduced campus case studies to connect theory and practice. Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, president emerita of Kalamazoo College (MI), described how that institution successfully responded to a complex controversy—involving free speech, social media, and threats of violence—by relying on inclusive processes and engaging with a wide variety of campus constituents. In a session moderated by Pulitzer-Prize winning Yale University historian David Blight, panelists Vivia Fowler, president of Wesleyan College (GA), Jeffrey Makala, university archivist at Furman University (SC), and Julian Hayter, associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond (VA), described how their campuses have addressed controversies arising from racially-charged aspects of their institutions’ histories. Hayter noted that “every college has a racialized history” and then argued that “students’ challenges to historical memory are a product of diversification on campus.” This, he concluded, presents colleges with a moral obligation to provide students with better tools to reckon with both history and diversity.

Other speakers explored the complex relationship between a newly-diverse student body and the traditional liberal arts curriculum. For example, New York University philosopher and New York Times columnist K. Anthony Appiah described humanistic learning as “the explication of particularity” and a guide to “thinking about how to spend the only life you’ve got.” Encountering canonical texts as a student from an African background, Appiah argued, equipped him to critique the idea of cultural capital being owned by people of specific identity. He defined the “appetite for a humanistic education” as the legacy of all people.

Julie Park standing and speaking with four participants
Julie Park (center) of the University of Maryland and Institute participants discussing campus diversity and equity issues.

For Roosevelt Montás, the former director of Columbia University’s core curriculum, the question isn’t whether canonical texts in philosophy and literature are “great” books but whether they are “important” books. The canon can and should be expanded to include more “important” books. But “canonical texts can serve a leveling function, and we do students [from diverse backgrounds] an unconscionable disservice when we steer them away from the traditional liberal arts curriculum.” Montás encouraged institutions to take a committed stance about what is important for students to learn, whatever their backgrounds, and noted that the curriculum is always by definition about exclusion—a faculty must decide what it will not teach in order to focus on what it will require.

Phi Beta Kappa Secretary Frederick Lawrence offered perspectives on campus policies and practices that allow robust intellectual debate while encouraging productive and civil interactions. Speaking from his experience as both a First Amendment scholar and a former president of Brandeis University, Lawrence began with a set of “bedrock” principles: “We are educative institutions. There is no them on campus, only us.” Students, he continued, should learn to disagree without delegitimizing others, question ideas not motives, and seek points of agreement with their opponents. Institutions, meanwhile, should resist attacks on the “marketplace of ideas” from all sides, while remembering their primary role as places of learning.

Participants, who met with teammates during planning sessions, developed specific initiatives to apply the lessons of the Institute to their campuses. Amanda Hagood, assistant dean of faculty at Eckerd College (FL), remarked, “We’re returning to campus with new knowledge, an exciting plan, and renewed energies.... This was truly a transformative experience and we are delighted by the insights and ideas that have surfaced from it.” Susan Hasseler, president of Muskingum University (OH), also reported, “Our team found the CIC Institute to be a profound and challenging experience. We are eager to build on this work.”


​Augsburg University (MN)
Berea College (KY)
Bridgewater College (VA)
Buena Vista University (IA)
California Lutheran University
College of Saint Mary (NE)
Curry College (MA)
Eckerd College (FL)
Elmhurst College (IL)
Gettysburg College (PA)
Graceland University (IA)
Illinois College
Lewis University (IL)
​Luther College (IA)
Mars Hill University (NC)
Muskingum University (OH)
North Park University (IL)
Pacific Lutheran University (WA)
Springfield College (MA)
St. John Fisher College (NY)
St. Lawrence University (NY)
Trinity University (TX)
University of Evansville (IN)
Viterbo University (WI)
Wheaton College (MA)