UMass Amherst Professors Win Grant to Build Bridges Between Racial, Ethnic and Gender Groups

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts School of Education professors Ximena Zuniga and Maurianne Adams have received a $150,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Program on Pluralism and Unity. The grant will allow them to develop a series of classes and residential programs aimed at building bridges between different racial, ethnic, and gender groups. The grant will be divided into two components, according to Zuniga, one focusing on student leadership, the other on faculty support.

The student leadership component will focus on graduate students who teach credit courses and noncredit workshops to undergraduates in residential areas on campus. The faculty support component will be aimed at University faculty who teach courses or subject matter requiring some degree of "diversity" in content.

The faculty support component – known as the Faculty Leadership Initiative – is currently in the planning stage, and is scheduled to be formally launched in spring 1999. The student leadership component – known as the Student Leadership and Community Development Initiative – will begin next fall, and will allow Zuniga to expand on an experimental course taking place this semester called "Talking Across Differences: Exploring Conflicts and Common Ground." Students enrolled in the class will not only read and write extensively on the subject of diversity, but will engage in face-to-face dialogues on issues of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and class. To focus the issues addressed in these dialogues, the class will be divided into three sections: 1. white women and women of color; 2. white men and women, and men and women of color; and 3. Latino(a) men and women, and men and women of African heritage.

"The goal of the course is to confront the issue of difference in a real way, not just as a concept," Zuniga says. "Many of the students in the class are interested in teaching or human service where it will be to their benefit to know how to work more effectively in diverse settings. But, by far, these are not the only students who will benefit." Zuniga says that issues to be discussed in the class affect individuals from nearly every strata of society. The topics will include: racism and sexism on campus; interracial dating; affirmative action; self-segregation; and the social implications of immigration and language discrimination. "Our society is becoming increasingly multiracial and multiethnic and it is important for higher education to prepare our young people for this reality," Zuniga says. "Through our program, we hope to build bridges between these many groups on campus, and by doing so to extend these bridges to the outside community."