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University of Richmond Students Discover Value in Encountering Difference

Students thought so positively of CDI that nearly all of them agreed that every student at the University of Richmond should be required to take the program

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One of the greatest impediments to developing truly inclusive communities is equipping people with the capability to interact across divides… CDI served as a tangible way of helping students understand why this is important.”

Dr. Ronald CrutcherPresident Emeritus, University of Richmond
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Challenges

Dr. Ronald Crutcher, President Emeritus of the University of Richmond, has mentored students with his wife, Dr. Betty Neal Crutcher, for over 21 years. The pair have always worked with diverse groups of students and believe strongly in helping them bridge their differences.

When Dr. Crutcher arrived at the University of Richmond in 2015, the university had recently become very diverse in a short period of time. As a result, he and his wife felt a strong need to help first-year students feel comfortable interacting with people from different backgrounds. “Most of our students come to us from segregated communities – religiously, racially, and culturally. And so they don’t really have an experiential base from which to build relationships across this difference,” Dr. Crutcher explained.

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What We Did

When Dr. Crutcher heard about Perspectives, he tried it personally and was very impressed. He appreciated how the program distilled academic research into lessons that his students would be able to understand and act upon. His hope was that Perspectives would help incoming students feel prepared to interact with students with diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and values. Dr. Crutcher assigned his students to complete Perspectives in August, a few weeks ahead of the fall semester.

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Outcomes

Dr. Crutcher reflected that the trends that we’re seeing across the country – such as rising polarization and the tendency to sort ourselves into bubbles of people like ourselves – are also playing out on college campuses.
According to Dr. Crutcher, it’s the responsibility of universities to break these societal patterns and help their students understand the value of engaging with diverse perspectives. The goal isn’t to paper over differences. It’s to have a deeper understanding of why people hold the views that they hold. Dr. Crutcher found that “[Perspectives] has prepared students to do that in ways that other students would not have been prepared.”

For example, two years ago, two of his students were paired up for an exercise. One of the students was of East Asian descent and was very conservative. The other student was very liberal and was surprised to learn of his partner’s beliefs.

The liberal partner reflected that if he hadn’t done Perspectives, he would’ve shut down and not been sure of what to say. Instead he explained that “because of what I learned in Perspectives, I was curious to learn more. I wanted to learn more about him and his ideas. I wanted to learn what it was that drove him to think this way.”

Dr. Crutcher has found that Perspectives is an especially useful tool for students in their first year of college. First-year students at the University of Richmond are coming to campus from all around the world. Many of whom have never had close interactions with people who were different culturally, racially, or religiously.

Dr. Crutcher explained, “The easy thing for students to do when coming to a new situation is to gravitate towards those who are similar to them because they feel more comfortable.” However, he noticed that Perspectives enabled his students to recognize that interacting with people with diverse perspectives can be educational and useful.

He received feedback from his first-year students that the program helped them develop a mindset that prepared them for joining a diverse community and interacting with people they had never met. Dr. Crutcher reflected that Perspectives helped students expand beyond their comfort-zone in ways that other students would not have had the courage to do.

In this past year’s cohort, his students thought so positively of Perspectives that nearly all of them agreed that every student at the University of Richmond should be required to take the program.

In his on-the-ground work with his mentees, Dr. Crutcher was shocked by the immediate impact Perspectives had on his students. He recalled, “They had the most engaging conversations I had ever seen before, right off the bat. It was almost as if they had already met each other.”

Dr. Crutcher noticed that students arrived on campus at a more advanced stage of comfort and skill-level than his students had been at in the past. He was delighted to see that students really understood the concepts and that they were able to put them into practice “just like that.”

For Dr. Crutcher, this made it easier to facilitate open discussions about difficult topics throughout his mentorship program. In 2021, Dr. Crutcher led a discussion with his students about his decision to provide historical context for university building names rather than rename them. The group had an engaging conversation where students took turns sharing their differing perspectives on the issue.

When Dr. Crutcher asked what they had learned, one student said, “I think if every American could have open and honest discussions like we’ve had today, we would be less polarized as a country. I now have a better understanding of your decision. I still think names should be changed but now I have a better understanding of where you’re coming from.”

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Looking Forward

Dr. Crutcher and his wife have used Perspectives in their mentoring sessions for the last 3 years. He plans on requiring the Perspectives program in his first-year and upper-level seminars at the University of Richmond when he returns from sabbatical.

In addition, he recommended that faculty use the program in a seminar for first-year students as part of the general curriculum. Per this recommendation, the University of Richmond is considering incorporating Perspectives into a required first-year course called University 101. Dr. Crutcher professes, “If I could, I would require all of our students to take it because I think it would really help us to push through some issues that we face as a community.”

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Try Out Perspectives

CDI's interactive, online program, Perspectives, teaches students how to engage in constructive dialogue across differing backgrounds, beliefs, and viewpoints.

The entire 8-lesson program is free for educators. Try a sample section from the course to see how we present research-based skills in an engaging format that resonates with students.

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