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Ford Foundation Selects University of Missouri-Columbia for $100,000 Diversity Project


After a national competition in undergraduate education that drew more than 675 proposals, the Ford Foundation has selected the University of Missouri-Columbia as one of 27 higher education institutions to receive $100,000 grants for projects that promote academic freedom and constructive dialogue on campus.

The grants are part of Ford’s “Difficult Dialogues” initiative, created in response to reports of growing intolerance and efforts to curb academic freedom at colleges and universities. The goal is to help institutions address this challenge through academic and campus programs that enrich learning, encourage new scholarship and engage students and faculty in constructive dialogue about contentious political, religious, racial and cultural issues.

“The University of Missouri-Columbia has proposed a creative project that will use interactive theater, faculty development programs and campus-wide forums to increase tolerance and constructive dialogue among its students,” said Jorge Balán, a Senior Program Officer at the Ford Foundation.

The overall goals of the project are to prepare students for democratic citizenship in a religiously and culturally diverse nation; and to preserve academic freedom in an environment where neither faculty nor students will feel silenced for their beliefs and issues.

Over the course of the two-year initiative, the “Difficult Dialogues” grantees will be invited to share their experiences and ideas at regional conferences coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free _Expression in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Center will also host a Web-based forum for project directors to share ideas online.

Examples of other projects that will receive funding include: at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, new courses, faculty seminars and campus roundtables on religion and religious conflict; at Queens College in New York, the development of a new curriculum for promoting understanding and informed discussion about the conflict in the Middle East; at Mars Hill College in North Carolina, training for faculty and student leaders to foster productive discussions of race, sexual orientation and religion; and a project at Yale University that will examine whether courses about controversial issues increase tolerance and respect for different viewpoints among students.

“Colleges and universities are uniquely suited to expand knowledge, understanding and discussion of controversial issues that affect us all,” said Susan V. Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation. “The selected projects illustrate the thoughtful and creative ways institutions are promoting intellectually rigorous scholarship and open debate that is essential to higher education.”

“Difficult Dialogues” is part of a broader, $12 million effort by the Ford Foundation to understand and combat anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry in the United States and Europe. It builds on the foundation’s history of supporting efforts by colleges and universities to foster more inclusive campus environments and to engage effectively with the growing racial, religious and ethnic diversity of their student bodies.

For more information on the Difficult Dialogues initiative and a complete list of awardees, visit:

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