Diversity and Democracy

From the Editor: Working Collectively across Differences

If virtues are measured by votes, it might be difficult at times to see the ability to collaborate across differences as an asset. As of this spring, the US presidential primary races have surfaced a high degree of divisiveness. The two leading candidates are both viewed more unfavorably than previous frontrunners since polling on this topic began in 1984 (Salvanto et al. 2016); their closest challengers were ranked last and second-to-last in bipartisanship among sitting senators (Lugar Center n.d.). Yet although some voters might respond to this divisive atmosphere, voters also bemoan the resulting “gridlock in Washington” and seek changes that would clearly require bipartisan collaboration.

Employers, too, demonstrate mixed ideas about the skills required for collaborative work in contemporary settings. Among employers responding to a survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) by Hart Research Associates, 96 percent agreed or strongly agreed that “all college students should have educational experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own” (2015, 3). Eighty-three percent rated “the ability to work effectively with others in teams” as very important, and 56 percent rated “the ability to analyze and solve problems with people from different backgrounds and cultures” as such (4–5). And yet, less than 40 percent ascribed equal importance to “awareness and experience with diverse cultures and communities” within or outside of the United States (5)—learning outcomes that are surely necessary for employees to engage in teamwork effectively within a globally interconnected and domestically diverse workforce.

Fortunately, colleges and universities are calibrating their teaching and learning goals to meet the very real demands of a changing workforce and society. Through a set of Essential Learning Outcomes articulated as part of its Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, AAC&U has pointed toward the importance of “integrative and applied learning … demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems.” Such learning does not occur in a vacuum. On the contrary, it should be tightly entwined with other Essential Learning Outcomes, such as “teamwork and problem solving” as well as “civic knowledge and engagement—local and global” and “intercultural knowledge and competence … anchored through active involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges” (AAC&U 2015, 9).

To achieve these interconnected outcomes, college students should (as employers have signaled) have significant practice solving complex problems with diverse groups of collaborators. This issue of Diversity & Democracy contains articles highlighting courses, programs, and initiatives where students are engaging in such collaborative problem-solving across differences. The issue also underscores the importance of conducting this work not only with students, but among faculty, staff, administrators, and community members. Contributing authors explore such topics as the elements required to build campus-community partnerships and the institutional practices that allow practitioners to come together across professional roles in support of student success. Critically, the issue also calls readers to reflect on the current climate for diversity within higher education, and to work together to address the racism, sexism, and range of phobias currently afflicting higher education and the public sphere.

As AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider wrote when she introduced the first issue of Diversity Digest (now
Diversity & Democracy) nearly twenty years ago, “It has never been more important for educators to make explicit the connection between campus learning and the democratic values that guide diversity work” (1996, 1). Today, it has never been more important for these connections to manifest in the ways students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community members work collectively with those who are unlike them. This issue is designed to help practitioners consider avenues toward such collaboration, for the sake of students, the economy, and civil society.

 

—Kathryn Peltier Campbell
Editor, Diversity & Democracy

References

AAC&U. 2015. The LEAP Challenge: Education for a World of Unscripted Problems. Washington, DC: AAC&U.

Hart Research Associates. 2015. Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success. Washington, DC: AAC&U. http://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2015employerstudentsurvey.pdf.

Lugar Center. n.d. “The Lugar Center–McCourt School Bipartisan Index.” http://www.thelugarcenter.org/ourwork-Bipartisan-Index.html.

Salvanto, Anthony, Fred Backus, Jennifer De Pinto, and Sarah Dutton. 2016. “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Viewed Unfavorably by Majority–CBS/NYT Poll.” CBS News, March 21. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-and-hillary-clinton-viewed-unfavorably-by-majority-cbsnyt-poll/.

Schneider, Carol Geary. 1996. “Dear Colleague.” Diversity Digest 1 (1): 1.


Kathryn Peltier Campbell is the editor of Diversity & Democracy.

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