Chancellor Cantor Urges National Leaders to Find New Ways of Cultivating Students Traditionally Excluded from Higher Education

In a speech to the American Council of Learned Societies, Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor said that colleges and universities need to shift their perspective on educating students who have traditionally been excluded from higher education.

“We should stop asking 'others' to 'rise above' their lived experiences as they enter our gates,’’ said Cantor.

“As we think about strategies for building more engaged, self-reflective, open institutions – institutions that reflect the diversity of our world, that eschew an assimilationist model that often sees those who enter our world as passively absorbing our excellence versus actively contributing to it and co-creating with us – it seems important to think of ways to truly embed this perspective and vision in people and programs and processes across the institution, versus thinking of it as top-down mandates,’’ she said.

Speaking from her experience as a social psychologist, Cantor urged higher education leaders to adopt an “outside-in” point-of-view, while acknowledging that this can be difficult within academia, which can be a rigid, hierarchical environment that is often resistant to change. But it is key to achieving diversity that leads to transformation, she said.

“Diversity is a critical concept for building inclusive, innovative, and just civic-social infrastructure in our institutions, in our organizations, and in our neighborhoods. These are not mutually exclusive goals or campaigns, but rather intertwined in a well-functioning democracy,’’ said Cantor. 

According to Cantor, colleges and universities can be part of “reparative justice” efforts that counterbalance “re-segregated and under-resourced public schools.’’ She emphasized the importance of working with community residents and partner organizations to find talented local students for whom opportunity has historically been out of reach and build “genuinely equitable pathways to higher education.”

She highlighted programs at Rutgers-Newark as an example of efforts that harnessed publicly engaged scholarship to educate students, advance knowledge, and find solutions to problems in Newark and beyond. These include the Lives in Translation, a program created by humanities faculty, which is based on the 48-plus home languages spoken by RU-N students, who serve as interns in Rutgers immigration law clinic and who participated in the contact tracing program for the City of Newark during COVID.

The Newark Public Safety Collaborative, a School of Criminal Justice program, works with community organizations within the city, police and local government, to provide data on environments crime where crime is most prevalent. It has been successful in reducing violent and non-violent crime. Community-created awareness-campaigns that cautioned residents against leaving the cards idling reduced car thefts, while other efforts, such as providing lighting in vacant lots, were successful in decreasing other types of crime as well.

Express Newark, an art and design center established to bridge the space between university and community, provides classroom and studio space for faculty, students and local artists, in addition to producing nationally acclaimed events, programs and exhibitions. It hosts visiting artists from the city and beyond and serves as a resource, partner and platform for Newark creatives, city organizations and residents.

The full text of Cantor's remarks can be found here.