Diversity and Democracy

The Ralph Bunche Societies: Broadening Horizons, Expanding Opportunities

In an increasingly interconnected world, undergraduate students across all disciplines must prepare to become full and active participants in the global community-a community in which too few racial and ethnic minorities and members of the working class see themselves as participants. To reverse this trend, colleges and universities across the country are creating clear spaces for students to engage in high-impact educational activities like opportunities for diversity/global learning that enable students to become global citizens. As a contribution to this movement, the Phelps Stokes Fund launched the Ralph Bunche Societies (RBS) in 2006. Our aim has been to help prepare minority students for participation in the global community and to expand academic and career opportunities for students.

Phelps Stokes Fund President Dr. Badi Foster (back row, center) and director of the Ralph Bunche Societies Bethany Dickerson (front row, second from left) meet with members of the University of Maryland-College Park RBS chapter. (Photo by Janet Tunney, University of Maryland-College Park)
Phelps Stokes Fund President Dr. Badi Foster (back row, center) and director of the Ralph Bunche Societies Bethany Dickerson (front row, second from left) meet with members of the University of Maryland-College Park RBS chapter. (Photo by Janet Tunney, University of Maryland-College Park)

This effort represents a continuation of nearly a century of work building bridges of international, intercultural, and interracial understanding. The Phelps Stokes Fund (PSF) has long worked with institutions of higher education (including minority-serving institutions) and other organizations to develop professional and leadership skills among peoples of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Committed to diversity, inclusion, and social justice, PSF has consistently collaborated with select colleges and universities to raise awareness of global issues and opportunities and to promote active student and faculty engagement in international arenas. The Ralph Bunche Societies are a natural outgrowth of this work.

Creating Global Citizens and Making an Impact on the World Stage

Open to all, but with an emphasis on minority and working-class students, the Ralph Bunche Societies are extracurricular undergraduate student-led associations dedicated to developing global citizens. The societies aim to assist all members, regardless of their field of study, in becoming globally engaged through scholarly excellence, language proficiency and cultural awareness, community service and activism, and professional and leadership development-all while honoring the life work, legacy, and values of Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche (1904-1971).

Bunche was one of PSF's distinguished leaders, serving as a member of the board of trustees for over twenty years. A scholar, educator, civil rights advocate, and world statesman, Bunche achieved international renown as the first person of color to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for his mediation of conflict in Palestine during the 1940s and early 1950s. The Ralph Bunche Societies are a fitting legacy given Bunche's influence on the Phelps Stokes Fund and in the world.

The Phelps Stokes Fund partners with interested colleges and universities to establish RBS chapters. These undergraduate student associations promote involvement by individuals who have not historically been encouraged to pursue studies or careers with international dimensions. These societies help student members apply their academic skills on a global scale.

Core Elements

Although each RBS chapter has the flexibility to select specific activities that appeal to its members, a few standard elements provide structure and guidance.

Toolkits. PSF provides each chapter with toolkits that focus on five key areas of concentration: the legacy, values, and work of Bunche; language and culture; global affairs and critical issues; leadership development; and international career opportunities and options. Resources and materials provided include DVD modules with accompanying educational materials; language-learning software; proposal-writing materials; and reading materials about Bunche, cultural awareness, and student leadership.

Small Grants. To assist with start-up costs, PSF typically makes available a small matching grant to each society for each of its first two years. PSF distributes small grants in response to applications or proposals submitted by RBS members.

Study Abroad. PSF provides information and guidance on study abroad opportunities and often provides study abroad scholarships to RBS members.

Internships. PSF provides information and guidance about internships in the public and private sectors to RBS members.

Language Learning. The fund explores creative and cost-effective approaches for exposing members to languages that may not be taught on campus. These include distributing language-learning software and establishing linkages with other universities to facilitate student exchanges for language learning.

Ralph Bunche Fellows. Beginning in 2010, the Phelps Stokes Fund will designate a minimum of ten students per year (nominated by their RBS chapters) as Ralph Bunche Fellows. Fellows must consistently maintain a grade point average (GPA) of 3.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale, demonstrate a commitment to public service, and demonstrate a commitment to perpetuating Ralph Bunche's legacy. Fellows may apply for renewable grants (contingent upon resource availability) as long as they remain full-time students and active in the Ralph Bunche Societies. Recipients may use these renewable grants to support professional and leadership development activities with international dimensions.

Mentoring. RBS faculty and administrative liaisons pair students with faculty members, administrators, and community residents who share their global perspectives and experiences with their mentees. PSF also encourages RBS members to mentor local high school students, developing a pipeline of students who are prepared from an early age to effectively compete in the international arena.

International Linkages. The fund facilitates linkages among select U.S. and overseas universities to foster academic dialogue between RBS members and members of comparable international student groups. For example, the fund designs conferences, seminars, and learning events where U.S. students can network with their counterparts in Latin America. We currently collaborate with Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), Southern University, the University of Maryland-College Park, the University of Virginia, State Technological University of Chocó, the University of Santiago de Cali, and the State University of the Pacific Coast in Colombia.

Institutional Capacity Building. While institutional capacity building is not the Ralph Bunche Societies' central feature, the fund promotes a variety of activities that enlighten campus communities as well as RBS members. Activities include providing assistance in bringing international visitors to host institutions and coordinating digital video conferences with experts on internationally relevant topics.

Information and Communication Technology. The fund is developing a Web-enhanced communication platform that will allow RBS stakeholders to efficiently exchange information. Participants can use this platform to post blogs, stream videos, and share information about internships and exchange opportunities.

Intentional Practices, Positive Results

Signs indicate that the Ralph Bunche Societies are here to stay. Approximately sixty undergraduate students are members of chapters at three universities-WSSU, the University of Maryland-College Park, and the University of Virginia-and nearly fifteen RBS chapters are in the pipeline. Through the societies, PSF has successfully facilitated several study abroad and internship experiences, created linkages to universities and students in Latin America, and facilitated professional and leadership development opportunities for RBS members. In addition, we have provided technical and financial assistance to RBS chapters, designed and hosted a successful global education and leadership conference at the University of Maryland-College Park, and facilitated the design of a course at Hampton University.

The fund plans to expand RBS in phases at interested minority-serving institutions, institutions that conferred honorary degrees on Bunche during his lifetime, and traditionally white institutions with significant minority student populations. We anticipate that these societies will spur an increase in the number of minority students with foreign language and area studies proficiencies, program and budget management skills, and an interest in international affairs; a greater portion of minorities pursuing careers with international components and globally applying their skills; and a critical mass of undergraduate students and faculty members who infuse internationalism and leadership development activities on campuses around the world.

Adhering to nearly a century of Phelps Stokes Fund tradition, RBS identifies and cultivates talent, fresh ideas, and innovative approaches to shaping global citizens. We know that visionary leaders exist in every community, so we stay connected to those often untraditional places that are fertile ground for new global leadership to emerge. Then we challenge ourselves and others to envision a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world and to make this image a reality.

For more information about the Ralph Bunche Societies, please contact the Phelps Stokes Fund at 202-371-9544 ext. 237.

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