CICS building with flowers
University News

Spring Community, Democracy and Dialogue Initiatives Announced

On Jan. 26, Nefertiti A. Walker, vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, sent the following update on Community, Democracy and Dialogue (CDD) Initiatives on the UMass Amherst campus.



Dear Campus Community,

As we reconvene in the new year, we continue to face the critical challenge of embracing our educational mission to promote thoughtful and robust exploration of complex and controversial issues. As a learning community, UMass Amherst is committed to the exercise of free speech and the nurturing of discussions that foster empathy, broaden perspectives and diminish polarization.

During the winter break, the Community, Democracy and Dialogue (CDD) advisory working group, which Chancellor Javier Reyes announced at the close of the fall semester, has been busy developing a series of new opportunities for students, faculty and staff to engage in meaningful initiatives and events. The CDD includes a diverse group of faculty, staff and campus leaders with expertise in many fields, including geopolitics, equity and inclusion, and communication and civil discourse. In addition, its work is being informed by discussions with graduate and undergraduate student leaders. The CDD is committed to pro-actively creating an ongoing, sustained effort that provides ways to support inclusion and diversity in concert with the democratic concepts of respect and compromise.

Key aspects of these spring initiatives include:

  • The commitment of $150,000 in grant funds to support grassroot efforts by students, staff and faculty to promote diverse discourse and open dialogue on critical global and domestic social issues. Grants of up to $5,000 will be awarded to support activities such as workshops, symposia, brown bag lunches, guest speakers and the development of curriculum or resources. Details on how to submit proposals will be provided in a campuswide email by the end of this month. Funds will be disbursed by early March for projects undertaken this semester or planned for fall 2024, at which time a second call for proposals will be announced.
  • The Third Way Forward, a plan to create small group-dialogue opportunities to establish spaces where people feel comfortable sharing their perspectives, asking questions and engaging in conversations without risking immediate judgment or blame. These micro-communities will encourage democratic engagement and better understanding of differing viewpoints, working toward the goal of contributing to a more inclusive campus climate.
  • A Social Media/Multimedia Literacy Toolkit. Informed citizens today must be prepared to distinguish between credible outlets and those that distribute misinformation and disinformation. In addition, individuals need a better understanding of today’s intense social media environment and how it can impact their professional and personal lives. This resource will be developed by expert UMass Amherst faculty.
  • Promotion of timely programming already planned this semester, such as guest speakers, panels and executives-in-residence. One example is the inaugural Endowed Lecture on the Holocaust and Contemporary Social Problems on February 28 sponsored by the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies. Professor Omer Bartov of Brown University will speak on “The Never Again Syndrome: Uses and Misuses of Holocaust Memory in Contemporary Global Politics.”

We plan to share regular updates on these efforts with the campus community and details of many initiatives will be featured on the Office of Equity and Inclusion website and the university’s Events Calendar, as well as in the weekly Inside UMass newsletter.

The CDD’s vision, developed in collaboration with students, faculty and staff, is to provide additional ways in which we can respond to pressing geo-political issues — such as the conflicts taking place in Ukraine, Armenia, Sudan, Israel and Gaza — with the ability to be adaptable as other matters emerge. The CDD exists to promote dialogue, academic inquiry and respect for differences in addressing challenging topics, which will be vitally important as we enter a new election cycle this year.

I want to thank my colleagues who have joined me to devote time to this essential endeavor as members of the CDD. They include Ian George Barron, Professor of Education; Rolanda Burney, Chief of Staff, Chancellor’s Office; Stephen Clingman, Distinguished Professor of English; Michelle Goncalves, Deputy Chief of Staff, Chancellor’s Office; John Kennedy, Vice Chancellor for University Relations; Mike Malone, Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs; David Mednicoff, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Public Policy; Anthony Paik, Professor of Sociology and Secretary of the Faculty Senate; Shelly Perdomo-Ahmed, Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life; MJ Peterson, Professor of Political Science; Musbah Shaheen, Assistant Professor of Higher Education; Linda Ziegenbein, Director for the Strategic Advancement of Equity and Campus Climate, Office of Equity and Inclusion; and Ximena Zúñiga, Professor of Social Justice Education and Chancellor’s Leadership Fellow; as well as student government leaders. 


Nefertiti A. Walker, Ph.D.
Professor, Isenberg School of Management
Office of Equity and Inclusion