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Table of Contents

Who Are We?

Pluralism and Unity

Being Greek

A Sense of Belonging

Voice from the Right

An Attitude of Accommodation

Bigger Questions

Chaplain Kathleen Buckley

"Larry Got Gay"

Speed Bumps

The Great Financial Aid Misconception

The Difference that Differnce Makes

Laurentian Reviews

Alumni Accomplishments

Magazine Cover

Pluralism and Unity
By Joseph Kling

 In 1998, the University submitted a proposal to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for a "Pluralism and Unity" grant. Through this grant St. Lawrence would seek, the proposal stated, "to bridge our extensive academic achievements in intercultural studies with the day to day real lives of our students, faculty, and staff, in order to achieve a more inclusive campus climate and broader sense of community." Over the next four years we came to understand what this abstract proposition meant; the following article attempts to set out the specific goals that emerged over the life of the grant, and touch briefly on what we accomplished, what we didn't, and where the University needs to go from here.

The purpose of the Hewlett Steering Committee, which was set up to administer the grant, was to find ways to make St. Lawrence a more open and welcoming place for diversity and difference. From the beginning, the committee defined diversity along the broadest set of axes. Its definition included race, color, religion, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, and those who were physically challenged. What took more time to articulate, and what had to become the first premise of the Hewlett Committee, was that, in order for its concept of diversity and difference to have any meaning, for its programs and practices, that is, to be actually inclusive, "difference" had to be recognized as including "white people" as well.

This is not as self-evident a premise as might at first appear. In fact, it flies in the face of the common understanding of diversity in American culture, which is that "they" are the different ones - such a perspective immediately and logically implying, in ways that go both unstated and unrecognized, that "we" are the norm.

At St. Lawrence this translates into the social perception that difference applies to and is about the faculty and students of color Ñ and to the other minorities that choose to identify themselves as such - but not to "us." "We" want everyone to feel welcome, of course, and everyone deserves equal treatment, and prejudice and bigotry are bad, and "we" will do all we can to accept them into our culture without forcing them to be like us. But "being different" is not our problem, though the existence of difference, and exclusion based upon difference, we do realize is a problem for the community, and one that we are willing to acknowledge and deal with.

In this sense, the task of the Hewlett committee, as it emerged during the past four years, has been to inform the community with the perspective that we are all different. To be white is to be different from those who are not white. To be comfortable and middle-class is to be different from those whose families must struggle economically. To be handsome and muscular, or svelte and blonde, is to be different from those whose physical appearance does not happen to accord with what the models on the runways or the men and women in the videos or the stars of the most popular sitcoms look like. To be all these socially valued things - is to be different.

Majorities take for granted their social power. At their best they are tolerant. The point of the Hewlett committee could not be to sow tolerance, but to cultivate a climate of inclusivity. If the committee has done anything over the past four years, it is to create a climate where these issues of invisibility and the deleterious effects of the concept of what Audre Lourde calls the "mythical norm" have been opened up, and are now being talked about. The conversation, many of us hope, has been brought to the table. But it's not clear whether we've done too much more than that, or whether, in the short space of four years, too much more than that can be done, and the biases of an entire culture overturned.

How does one make difference visible, that is, educate a majority community to the perspective that difference is not simply about the other Ñ but includes the majority as well? For the "othered" do not see themselves as other, and their responses would be the same as our responses if we were somehow defined as "different," as "outsider": anger and resentment at the failure to recognize that we are not, in any meaningful human sense, "different" at all. So how does one go about transforming attitudes on all sides? Transforming, on the one hand, the indifference to a set of cultural attitudes that exclude by definition, and, on the other, the bitterness and frustration that is borne of such unacknowledged exclusion. There were three major programs of the Hewlett committee - three major undertakings through which it tried to move toward these changes.

A. Cultural Audits
One of the first major commitments of the Hewlett committee was to find out what the community's attitudes were regarding "difference" - how difference was understood and perceived by the variety of constituencies on campus. The committee sponsored three such cultural audits.

1. The first was the use of existing survey instruments and existing focus group research. The committee, working with the institutional research staff, pulled together several of the different quantitative surveys that the University does regularly, of faculty and students, and culled from them what it could about attitudes toward diversity on a number of dimensions - of race, gender, economic status (class), faculty, students and staff. We pulled the findings together into a Power Point presentation, which we shared - separately - with students, faculty and staff. These presentations, carried out over the course of the 2000-2001 school year, opened the conversation. One of the things we discovered was that the survey instruments essentially ignored attitudes about race and class, and said nothing about staff. They did measure attitudes relating to gender, however.

These instruments are generated by national academic research organizations, and permit us to compare ourselves to other institutions nationally along key demographic and attitudinal measures. The fact that these nationally generated instruments ignore race, class and occupational categories says more about what the national culture sees as important when looking at college campuses than it does about anything else. But it left St. Lawrence with inadequate findings about its own campus climate. So we initiated two more cultural audits from within.

2. Qualitative and Staff Cultural Audits
a. Qualitative Audit - We invited one member each of the sociology and education faculty to conduct a survey of campus attitudes toward difference, one that would consciously focus on the dimensions neglected by the national surveys. These faculty researchers developed and applied a set of ethnographic techniquesÑsuch as participant observation of social behavior in specific settings, like dining areas, classrooms, gyms, downtown bars and interview groups. These methods are designed to discover what goes on at the roots of the campus culture and climate, to discover how the members of the campus community contribute themselves to the construction of its norms, values and expected behaviors.

b. Staff Audit - Associate Vice President for Human Resources Susan Cypert and Director of Institutional Research Christine Zimmerman involved the staff in a series of attitudinal surveys. St. Lawrence is breaking ground here. We could find no other college or university that had any instruments for studying the attitudes of hourly staff toward the campus, or their own sense of how the campus community, generally, viewed them. The audit explored how staff felt about themselves, how they viewed their supervisors, how they experienced their relations to students and faculty. We believe this project to be so innovative, that a group from the Hewlett committee is going to the fall conference of the American Association of Colleges to report on these audits.

B. Intercultural House
Intercultural House, established in the second year of the Hewlett Project, is one of the most important initiatives at St. Lawrence in its efforts to support diversity at the most immediate levels of the student culture. Its impact extends deeply into the curriculum, and expands the institutional opportunities available to our students for living across difference. In the fall semester of 1999, a course, Introduction to Intercultural Studies, was established as part of the Cultural Encounters graduation track at St. Lawrence; it has since become a core course for the recently approved global studies major. The course is an integral part of a living/learning program, which is residentially based in a renovated space in Sykes Residence. The students who take the residentially linked course section live together in Intercultural House, which is architecturally linked to the pre-existing International House. The two diversity-based residential communities thus share a large kitchen and beautiful lounge with excellent audio-visual resources and rich programming opportunities.

C. Mini-Grant Programs
Hewlett made funds available to any individuals or groups on campus that wanted to develop programs or promote activities that contributed to an open campus climate. Applicants had to explain the long-term impact they believed their project would have on the goal of enhancing diversity at St. Lawrence. The mini-grant initiative thus involved the entire campus in working toward the project of speaking to diversity, rather than constructing the grant simply as a top-down enterprise.

Faculty and student groups used these funds to run workshops, attend conferences, and invite speakers and performers to campus. The mini-grant program also helped fund a number of Service Learning programs, including, last year, Expanding the Circle, a one-day workshop on the Service Learning oral history project that explores the cultural connections between St. Lawrence and the surrounding North Country community. Service learning remains, in fact, one of the major undertakings supported by the Hewlett Committee.

Other mini-grant sponsored projects included Conversation in Black and White, which featured Thomas Jefferson descendants Julia Jefferson and Shay Banks-Young (see St. Lawrence, Spring 2001, p. 3). The day following their stage presentation, they met with various classes to discuss, on a face-to-face level with students, the issue of race and heritage in America. PRIDES (People Recognizing Individuality, Diversity, and Equality of Sexualities) sponsored a presentation by Leslea Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies, entitled "Homophobia and Censorship." And a member of the education department took two students to a conference on diversity in education, where they attended a workshop that was eventually replicated on campus.

D. Flippin' the Script

In the spring of 2002 the Hewlett committee sponsored a campus-wide program intended, as the program's Mission Statement put it, to "name and celebrate our differences and commonalities, and bring together the many individualized efforts that currently exist to address diversity on campus." The point was to involve as much of the campus community as possible in the work of promoting and valuing pluralism at St. Lawrence, and to attempt to find ways to link the many constituencies on campus that dealt with issues of difference. This sort of grass-roots involvement is essential to whatever impact, over the long term, the Hewlett committee will have.

A special subcommittee was recruited to develop and organize the program, which we called "Flippin' the Script." The organizing committee, chaired by Associate Professor of Speech and Theatre Rebecca Daniels, invited individuals, groups, organizations, classes, programs and departments from across campus to fill the semester with activities and events of all kinds, such as discussions, workshops, seminars, course projects, art exhibitions, music, performances, readings, poetry slams, videos and whatever else people on campus could think of. There were no predetermined forms or content to these initiatives.

The semester-long program began on the first day of the term, with a memorial service for Martin Luther King's birthday, and an exhibition in Brush Art Gallery of black-and-white photographs from the last three years of Dr. King's life, "Countdown to Eternity." The culmination came on the last day of the semester, with a special, day-long set of programs, panels, performances, exhibitions and world-music bands, as well as a mural dedication (see cover), all of which attempted to recognize the scope of the semester's work. Over the term, the campus was treated to at least 30 different projects. Whatever else, "Flippin' the Script" achieved the sort of visibility for the issue of diversity that the Hewlett committee had long since understood to be its basic goal.

There is no space to go into a detailed assessment of the long-term effects of the Hewlett grant, what it accomplished, what it did not. I think the case can be made that it accomplished one of its goals, at least, to create a conversation about "difference" on campus, and to begin to broach the meaning of diversity as an inclusive practice, one that embraces all members of the community, not just those who have been historically excluded by dominant institutions. But invisibility remains a central problem, as significant numbers of white students continue to see the problem as not relevant to their lives, and our students of color continue to feel ignored, marginalized and taken for granted.

There are at least two areas of practical application that the University must pursue if it is to move toward its stated goal of creating a campus climate where all feel ownership and a sense of place. First, in the classroom, faculty members generally must begin to recognize the sensibilities of minority students on these matters, without either ignoring them or treating them as representatives of their race or cultural group. Second, St. Lawrence must make the recruitment and retention of both students and faculty of color not just a primary but an over-riding policy goal.

The Hewlett committee is ending its run. The University, therefore, needs to move forward and find other structures, programs and practices to confront and engage its stated commitments to an open, diverse and inclusive campus climate.

Joe Kling, chair and professor of government, chaired the Hewlett Steering Committee.