Yale Receives Ford Foundation Grant for “Difficult Dialogue” Program
New Haven, Conn. — Yale has received a grant of $100,000 from the Ford Foundation for a unique program to develop a more temperate climate on campus for dialogue about such flashpoint issues as race relations, religion and political views.
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.
Yale’s program will track possible changes in students’ perspectives, knowledge and beliefs after they take courses dealing with different aspects of provocative subjects like politics in the Middle East, tensions between different ethnic groups and the rise of political Islam.
“For generations, scholars have argued that college courses engender a more tolerant and circumspect outlook. This study attempts to measure the ways in which these courses change students’ outlook,” says Donald Green, the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of Political Science, who developed the program with colleagues Cynthia Farrar and Khalilah Brown-Dean.
The Ford-funded study at Yale will be administered through the Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS), of which Green is the director. Green is a leading scholar in the field of political psychology whose research includes studies of prejudice and the impact of deliberation on public opinion.
Brown-Dean, who teaches in the African American Studies and political science departments, is a highly regarded expert on perceptions of bias and group conflict. Her popular class, “Black and Jewish Community Politics,” is one of the courses that will be used in the Difficult Dialogues study at Yale.
Farrar, who will coordinate the program, organizes and studies locally and nationally Deliberative Polling, a system for gauging change of public opinion through improved access to information and dialogue.
By comparing students who were randomly selected to take the designated classes and those who were randomly excluded, researchers hope to find whether attitudes and perspectives are affected by courses, and, if so, which courses produce what effects. The program also should reveal which students are more affected and whether the diversity of the group makes a difference. Last, the study will track students’ behavior to see if the courses influence their choice of extracurricular activities as well as their attitude.
The Ford Foundation launched Difficult Dialogues in April 2005 by inviting proposals from all accredited, degree-granting, non-profit institutions with general undergraduate programs. A panel of external higher education experts selected 136 institutions to submit final proposals from a pool of 675 primary proposals. Yale was one of 26 institutions of higher education to receive the grant.
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.
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