New funding for religion and race discussion initiatives

Oct. 25, 2012, 1:17 a.m.
New funding for religion and race discussion initiatives
KATIE BRIGHAM/The Stanford Daily

The Office of Residential Education (ResEd) is offering a new source of funding to encourage discussions of religion and race within dorms. The initiative, started in collaboration with the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) and the Department of Religious Studies, allows students and faculty to apply for up to $1,500 to pay for events that foster dialogue about racial and religious issues, according to Steven Weitzman, a professor of religious studies.

The grants are part of a larger initiative proposed by faculty from several departments to bring together the CCSRE, the Department of Religious Studies, and other groups such as The Center for South Asia and The Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies. The umbrella program has been given a grant of roughly $250,000 from President John Hennessy’s discretionary fund according to Jeff Wachtel, senior assistant to the president.

From the grant, ResEd has been given $15,000 a year for three years to offer to students and dorm staff.

Typically, ResEd is in charge of reviewing and approving proposals for residential grants. For this program, Weitzman, who was involved in the creation of the program, said that he and ResEd decided to create a three-person committee of faculty involved with the larger initiative rather than from within ResEd.

Because the smaller grants are focused on residential programming, there are two resident fellows on the committee: Weitzman, who is an RF in Roble Hall, and Geoffrey Baker, an RF in Larkin. The third member of the committee is ResEd Field Operations Officer Chris Corces-Zimmerman. ResEd will retain final approval of grants to the committee.

“I’m really excited to have this opportunity to engage students on these issues that a lot of them care about but they don’t have organized opportunities to talk about them, outside their own particular community,” Weitzman said.

He said that the types of proposals that will be accepted are ideas that promote learning and conversation about cultural and ideological differences, such as bringing in a guest speaker or going on a field trip. The money will not go to proposals that advocate for a specific religion or involve worship.

“There’s not a lot of opportunity for people to talk about religious differences or talk about questions they might be struggling with,” Weitzman said. “I think there is a lack of discussion on religion.”

According to an email announcing the new program that Weitzman wrote on behalf of the CCSRE, Department of Religious Studies, and the Taube Center for Jewish Studies, extra consideration will be given to proposals that are already receiving funding from other sources.

This approach is similar to the process of the President’s office discretionary spending.

According to Watchtel, the President’s office prefers proposals that have significant support, and is more interested in supplementing the funding of a new program than providing it entirely. This favors programs that are likely to succeed beyond the three to five years that the grant guarantees and is a precaution against new programs being associated directly with the President’s office rather than the departments and faculty implementing it.

The three-year grant length for the new program was described by both Wachtel and Weitzman as a sweet spot for this type of new initiative: long enough to work out any flaws but not long enough to become a burden in case it fails.

“By limiting [a grant] to three to five years, it’s a good chance to take a second look to see if the program is succeeding,” Wachtel said. “One of the things that we’re really great at here is coming up with new things to do and new ideas. It’s much more difficult to terminate a program, so what we’ve built in with this system is a chance to review something.”

The larger initiative surrounding the three-year ResEd grants is focused on global issues.

“[Projects] will hopefully connect different departments and units on campus for the study of and better understanding of religious and ethnic conflict around the globe,” Weitzman said.

One of the current projects under the umbrella program will focus on the ethnic diversity of India. Another will look at religion in Europe, including the rising tensions that have accompanied Muslim immigration.

Weitzman said that developing an incorporative worldview in both dorms and classrooms is the main goal.

“Stanford produces global leaders,” he said. “I feel it’s important for them to understand that religion is really an important part of global culture.”

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