University at Albany, State University of New York
Contact UAlbany Directories Calendars & Schedules Visitors Site Index Search
Admissions Academics Research IT Services Libraries Athletics







Campus News

UAlbany’s NCBI Offers March 22-24 Constituent Retreat for Jewish Leaders; Said to Be First of Its Kind

By Greta Petry (February 4, 2005)

Nancy Belowich-Negron

Nancy Belowich-Negron

Nancy Belowich-Negron remembers the early 1990s, when there were difficulties in communication between students of African heritage and Jewish students on campus.

“So the University looked for diverse models to find a way to help students know each other and understand how the other group felt,” said Belowich-Negron, director of Disabled Student Services in the Student Life office. “Without touching people’s hearts, you really can’t change their attitudes.”

In seeking a solution, the University at Albany became an affiliate of the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), a non-profit leadership training organization based in Washington, D.C. Belowich-Negron oversees NCBI training on the UAlbany campus, where more than 300 leaders have been trained in 11 years. There are at least 10 senior NCBI trainers at UAlbany, and many others who are still building their skills through workshops given annually for faculty, staff, and students.

“For NCBI, it’s not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s not about whether gay people should marry or whether we should allow more Muslims to enter the country. It’s always about helping people to understand those whose views are different from their own,” Belowich-Negron said.

The training worked. After the three-day skills training, Jewish student leaders and black student leaders started talking to one another and forming alliances that allowed for “great group understanding and cooperation,” Belowich-Negron said.

NCBI trains faculty, staff, and students to work against racial prejudice. What is perhaps less commonly known is that the skills taught at these workshops can be used in just about any situation in which there is conflict, controversy, or where people hold widely disparate beliefs.

NCBI also holds constituent retreats for seemingly unified groups that may in fact have many differences. NCBI’s UAlbany affiliate has won a $50,000 grant to give several three-day workshops this year. The grant money is from the United Jewish Federation of New York’s Com-mission on Jewish Identity & Renewal Terrorism Response Fund.

“March 22 to 24, we will produce the first all-Jewish Train-the-Trainers workshop event ever delivered in the world,” Belowich-Negron said. Later this year, August 25-27, NCBI will host the traditional Train-the-Trainers workshop on campus for people of various religions and diverse backgrounds.

The goal of the March event is to build unity in the Jewish community, among UAlbany faculty and students, as well as with Jewish people from around the region. It will also offer Jewish people ways to handle anti-Semitism.

According to Belowich-Negron, incidences of anti-Semitism are at their highest level since World War II, in Europe as well as in the U.S. She said the federation “recognizes that since 9/11, the world is a different place for all of us. Many groups are experiencing oppression. For Jews there is also conflict about the Middle East, and the net effect is that we recognize terrorism is a global problem. We all have a responsibility to encourage people to understand others in a more profound way.”

Two international trainers, Cherie Brown and Felice Markowicz, will be brought in for the March event at Chapel House. For more information, contact Belowich-Negron at (518) 442-5490.

“This model is attracting national attention,” said Belowich-Negron, noting that at least one foundation will be observing the model for the possibility of replicating it nationally.

There are two workshops in the traditional August model: Welcoming Diversity: Reducing Prejudice and Oppression, which deals with racism, sexism, homophobia, and other kinds of prejudice; and Contro­versial Issues, which deals with how to build coalitions with people with whom you have diametrically opposing views of the world.

Each year resident assistants, Middle Earth volunteers, student group leaders, and graduate students in Public Admin­i­stration and School of Social Welfare classes take the NCBI training. This spring the organization is also offering training to help fraternities and sororities deal with intercouncil issues.

Around the world, Belowich-Negron noted that NCBI has practical applications: it was used in South Africa when Nelson Mandela came to power; and in Israel on occasion to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the table; in the U.S. it has been used in the Bible Belt to start talks between those who oppose any mention of sexual issues in the public schools and those who are in favor of talking about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases beyond the abstinence model.

NCBI charges a fee for training leaders in the workplace. “But on our campus we do it for free…that’s our commitment to making the University a better place,” Belowich-Negron said.

Within any conflict is information that may need to be shared.

Belowich-Negron said, “If I am having an argument with you, I am trying to defeat you. I believe my view is better than your view. What we are overlooking in an argument is that our best teachers are those with whom we disagree.”

After 9/11, Belowich-Negron sensed the Muslim students on campus became less visible. “Ekow King, associate director of Student Activities and Multi­cultural Affairs and a senior trainer for the UAlbany NCBI chapter, pitched a workshop to the Muslim students. I didn’t know them, but they knew Ekow and trusted him,” she said.

King said, “In previous conversations with the president and vice president of the Muslim Student Association, I had been told that students were feeling isolated and powerless. I asked them if they would be interested in participating in a workshop designed to make them feel included and empowered. They were reluctant, but I encouraged them, knowing their involvement with NCBI would help them learn skills that would be useful throughout their lives. The abilities to build coalitions and find common ground where none seems to exist are precious leadership skills that we all need to acquire. NCBI teaches those skills and much more.”

The result was a workshop on “Islama­­phobia” conducted by senior NCBI trainers, including Dean of Undergraduate Studies Sue Faerman and biology professor Dan Wulff.

“The students were so pleased with the support they received from high-level administrators at the University,” Belowich-Negron said. This led to a workshop the following weekend on racial profiling. At this session, a relationship was built between students from the Middle East who felt they have been stereotyped and black students who have experienced racial profiling while driving or shopping.

“When people know your stories, they are more likely to protect you,” Belowich-Negron said.

She concluded, “People who feel good about themselves are not people who hurt other people.”