Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts: Reflections on a CIC Initiative

Diversity, Civility, and Liberal Arts report cover

​In mid-2017, the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) invited its member institutions to apply to participate in a four-day professional development event focused on institutional responses to student activism concerning racial injustice. The Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts Institute (“the Institute”) was premised on the belief that teaching and learning in the liberal arts—a signature element of the education offered by CIC institutions—is key to advancing equity, inclusion, and civil engagement in higher education communities. Funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, the Institute supported two cohorts of 25 institutions each in a team-based experience of intensive study, interaction with leading scholars of diversity and higher education, and institutional project planning, all intended to help institutions “transform protests into teachable moments.”

The Institutes in June 2018 and June 2019 engaged colleges and universities with different missions, histories, identities, and community contexts, but with a shared commitment to the liberal arts as a potential driver of informed and effective institutional change. Participants gave high marks to the quality of the Institute experience. Six months out, they reported work on a wide variety of curricular, co-curricular, and professional development projects aimed at improving diversity, equity, inclusion, and engagement across difference, directly and indirectly supported by the fruits of their Institute labors. The authors of this report served as participant-observers and evaluators of the two Institutes.

Then came the pandemic lock-downs, followed by world-wide activism in response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Both began less than a year after the second Institute, and both had (and continue to have) significant implications for equity and inclusion work in higher education. How well did the insights and projects fostered by the Institute hold up in this intensified post-Institute environment? And to what extent did the Institute experience equip participating institutions to respond effectively to what the global pandemic and world-wide protests laid bare?

This report begins by describing the Institutes that convened in Atlanta, Georgia, during an earlier phase of Black Lives Matter, mid-way through a contentious presidency, and before anyone had heard of COVID-19. Next the report highlights some of the specific activities undertaken by the participating teams to implement the lessons of the Institute on their own campuses, as well as the success factors and stumbling blocks they encountered along the way. Finally, we turn to a panel of Institute participants, representing a variety of roles and institutions, to help explore the impact of the intervening years and discuss the implications for future diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism work on college campuses. Although the context for this work has changed since 2017, independent colleges and universities have remained deeply committed to it. We hope that the examples and insights contained in this report will inform and inspire the leaders, faculty members, and staff members at many other institutions.

​​Council of Independent Colleges
Jo M. Beld and Bruce King with Philip M. Katz
July 2022