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Difficult Dialogues Initiative promotes diversity at MU, around country

COLUMBIA, Mo. As U.S. demographics continue to shift rapidly, the University of Missouri has made a commitment to valuing and promoting diverse points of view within the MU community and across the country. MU was one of 27 institutional recipients of $100,000 grants from the Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues Initiative (DDI) in 2005, and one of only a small number of those original institutions to receive an additional $100,000 grant in 2008.

DDI activities focus on teaching and reinforcing knowledge, skills, and awareness of diversity issues in higher education related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and other forms of diversity. The program encourages difficult dialogues on important, controversial topics. Eryca Neville, a past DDI Faculty Fellow and newly appointed coordinator of the MU DDI campus program, believes the initiative is essential to democratic citizenship in an increasingly diverse society.

MU has used the Ford Foundation funding to promote constructive dialogue regarding academic freedom and cultural, religious, and intellectual pluralism at MU as well as at other institutions across the country. The university has now been awarded an additional $30,000 by one of the foundation's partner organizations, the International Institute for Education (IIE).

In 2009, the MU Difficult Dialogues Program hosted a summer institute, designed by program leaders at the University of Missouri in collaboration with the principal investigators of two other DDI institutional awardees at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Alaska-Anchorage. Together, the schools provided participants with the foundational information, awareness and skills to develop DDI programs on their own campuses.

"This new $30,000 award from the IIE allows us to continue our efforts in expanding the reach of the DDI to six institutions that participated in our 2009 summer institute," said Roger L. Worthington, assistant deputy chancellor and chief diversity officer at MU. "Our new goal is to help other campuses around the country develop their own difficult dialogues program, and to establish a national movement for the advancement of difficult dialogues pedagogy in higher education."

"Facilitating difficult dialogues is an important tool to include various points of view across the wide range of perspectives in the wide variety of functions needed to sustain a university's function as well as a productive society as a whole," Neville said.

The University of Missouri has now received $230,000 in grants from the Ford Foundation and its partner organizations to advance the DDI. This includes the recent $30,000 grant that will be dispersed among several participating institutions including Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Baylor, the University of Kansas, and Iowa State.


Contact: Nathan Hurst
University of Missouri-Columbia

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