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Barnard College Difficult Dialogues Initiative

Barnard College was one of 26 higher education institutions to receive grants from the Ford Foundation in 2006 as part of Ford’s Difficult Dialogues Initiative. Barnard was one of 16 institutions to receive a follow-up grant in 2008. The Difficult Dialogues Initiative represented the most widely distributed request for proposals to academic institutions in the history of the Ford Foundation, and the institutions participating in the project ranged from community colleges to liberal arts colleges to research universities. The overall goal of the Ford Foundation Initiative, now institutionalized as the Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center, is: “To strengthen a democratically engaged society, we seek to advance innovative practices in higher education that promote respectful, transformative dialogue on controversial topics and complex social issues, thereby reflecting a commitment to pluralism and academic freedom.”

The goal of Barnard’s Difficult Dialogues project, Religion, Freedom, and the Politics of Identity, has been to create a campus environment where students and faculty can engage deeply in intellectual and personal explorations of political and religious issues. By increasing respectful campus engagement with potentially contentious issues, the project aims to provide an environment that promotes pluralism at Barnard and academic freedom nationally. Since the beginning of Barnard’s Difficult Dialogues Initiative in Fall 2006, the project has expanded Barnard’s curricular offerings that engage with complex issues tied to the politics of identity, expanded opportunities for intellectual development for Barnard’s faculty and students, and provided public programs on a range of relevant topics.

Barnard’s Difficult Dialogues Initiative included three major components, each of which is highlighted as part of this website:

  1. The development of a new version of Barnard’s well-known “Reacting to the Past” series The Struggle for Palestine.
  2. Expansion of materials supporting Barnard’s “Reinventing Literary History” First-Year English courses.
  3. A faculty seminar that addresses topics at the intersection of difficult dialogues and academic freedom and explores pedagogical approaches to controversial issues. Each year the faculty seminar addressed different topics:
    • 2006-07 Religious Freedom Academic Freedom
    • 2007-08 Africana Gender Studies
    • 2008-09 Ethnic Studies
    • 2009-10 Inequality in New York City

To learn more about each aspect of Barnard’s Difficult Dialogues Initiative, please click on the links above for project descriptions and materials produced by the projects and participants.