The discussion about race and the Philadelphia public school system had already lasted 20 minutes and Temple University students couldn’t stop talking. A forum on the country’s changing demographics hosted by the Philadelphia-based university’s new diversity research center left the students with more to say.
“We didn’t finish!” freshman communications major Nyidera Edwards said as the three-hour event concluded.
The session, attended by approximately 40 students, was one of the first events of Temple’s Academic Center on Research in Diversity, or ACCORD, which launched this year.
“Temple is a laboratory that is ideal for figuring out how to make diversity work,” says Dr. Roland Williams Jr., the center’s director and an associate English professor. He notes that Temple – sometimes dubbed “The Diversity University” – is located in one of the country’s most diverse cities.
ACCORD grew out of a faculty senate committee that was exploring the status of faculty of color on campus. The center aims to promote faculty and student research on diversity issues.
Former Philadelphia Mayor John Street, an adjunct associate professor of political science at Temple, was part of the committee that developed ACCORD. “This kind of forum is tremendously important,” Street said in an interview. “It really sows some great seeds for our future.”
Along with encouraging student and faculty research, the center will host forums like the session this fall which was inspired, in part, by the highly publicized local controversy in which a group of minority children were turned away from a suburban swim club last summer. As a result, racial tensions in the region bubbled to the surface.
The controversy highlights the importance of knowing how to deal with the country’s changing complexion, Williams says, especially as the U.S. Census Bureau predicts by 2042 minorities will be the majority. That statistic inspired discussions at the ACCORD forum and served as the launching pad for a student survey on racial perceptions, which will be used as a teaching tool. ACCORD has events scheduled over the next two years and plans to reach out to the local community.
The center’s link to Temple’s academic pursuits through research and staff bode well for its longevity, says Dr. Mitchell J. Chang, professor of higher education and organizational change at the University of California, Los Angeles. “What this program appears to be doing is taking the very best practices around issues of diversity and complementing that effort with producing cutting-edge research,” he says.
At a time when similar centers are folding because of a lack of funding, ACCORD is poised to sustain itself, Chang says. “They can attract external funding, especially because of their research component.”
But Chang cautions that such programs shouldn’t replace the development of coursework and the hiring of faculty focused on diversity. Furthermore, instead of trying to be “all things to all people,” he says, diversity programs are more effective when they’re more specific.