The University Record, November 8, 1999

Creating racial harmony requires ongoing commitment to communication

By Amy Reyes
News and Information Services

Education Prof. Michael T. Nettles last week presented the results of a new study that outlines measures 11 college campuses have taken to address racial tolerance issues on campus.

The study, “Models of Diversity: Pursuing Tolerance in Colleges and Universities,” examines race, ethnic and gender issues on 11 college campuses and the projects those institutions adopted to encourage knowledge, understanding and acceptance of other cultures.

“Colleges and universities recognize that diversity is a desirable goal and an integral component of offering a higher quality education, but they are finding that diversity comes with a price. It needs to be nurtured in order to be successful,” said Nettles, who co-authored the study with Cynthia Hudgins, a senior research associate in the School of Social Work.

Nettles presented the study’s findings Oct. 30 at a conference sponsored by the American Council on Education, “Educating All of One Nation. Diversity, Equity and Democracy: Optimizing Our Future.”

Colleges that participated in the study were chosen from among 260 applicants by Philip Morris Companies, which offered the colleges up to $100,000 to introduce programs designed to foster racial harmony on campus.

The colleges were: Bethune Cookman College, Daytona Beach, Fla.; Colby College, Waterville, Maine; Columbia College of Columbia University, New York; Davidson College, Davidson, N.C.; Duke University, Durham, N.C.; Haverford College, Haverford, Penn.; Long Island University, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Ill.; Northern Michigan University; Occidental College, Los Angeles; and University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Each of the institutions cited past racial, ethnic or gender tolerance issues on campus ranging from racial slurs to conflicts and misunderstandings between students and campus police. The report documents how each institution dealt with those issues.

Colby College, where minority students account for 69 of the 1,752-member student body, produced a film called Common Ground, a story about how a fictional college like Colby dealt with issues of race, class and gender issues.

At Northern Illinois, where 82 percent of the student body is white, the College of Business introduced a course called, “Skill Development for Success in a Multicultural Environment.”

Each of the Philip Morris projects tended to focus on race, particularly Black/white relations. Nettles and Hudgins found that some of the colleges didn’t devote attention to class issues, women’s issues and gay, lesbian and bisexual issues.

“In every case, these were excellent initiatives, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Much more work needs to be done to ensure that tolerance is made a part of the fabric of the institutions. Unless colleges and universities establish special interventions, communication barriers will persist,” Nettles said.

“One important aspect of it is to be sure that people within the academy and the supporters understand what tolerance means. Another difficulty was overcoming obstacles necessary to bring people together and in getting their attention. One of the obstacles that every campus faces is trying to broaden the level of interest to extend to those who actually need to be involved.”

The projects successfully raised the level of interest and dialogue over multicultural issues, but the challenge now is to sustain the programs after the Philip Morris grants expire, he said. “Once the grant runs out, people tend to move on to other things. It’s very difficult to sustain an initiative like this because even if you continue it, there is always a need to create new ideas.”