“What we know about transforming institutions is that it’s not really a top-down effort,” says Luis Cisneros. He’s a project manager at NYU’s Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Strategic Innovation (OGI) who works with NYU’s BeTogether Ambassadors program. For change to occur at the macro level, he says, change must first happen at the micro level. “It has to start from the bottom up. And it has to be something that everybody’s involved in.” That’s why OGI launched the BeTogether Ambassadors program in 2022: to teach people at NYU how to foster more diverse, equitable, and accessible communities in a focused way.
“As BeTogether Ambassadors, folks are asked to create inclusive communities within their own spheres of influence,” explains Cisneros. “It’s about more than adding a line to your email signature. It’s about taking real action and trying to impact change wherever possible.” The BeTogether Ambassadors program is part of NYU’s larger BeTogether effort that aims to create more inclusive spaces on campus. After surveying over 20,000 students, faculty, and staff, OGI created the initiative. It uses four pathways to spark change: programs, resources, policies, and people.
The Responsibilities of a BeTogether Ambassador
BeTogether Ambassadors seek out opportunities to change dynamics, educate, and hold conversations within their spheres of influence. Over 250 people signed up in the program’s first year. They meet monthly to discuss campus programming as well as opportunities and challenges they encounter. Meetings are tailored to what the ambassadors need. For example, past meetings covered how to frame conversations about microaggressions, offered guidance for combating discrimination and racism, and investigated societal challenges at large.
Takeaways from these meetings include concrete actions ambassadors can practice to promote inclusivity on campus. “It’s a daunting task to even think about how you would change a massive institution like NYU,” says Cisneros. “People want concrete actions. They want guidance. They want the support to do this work and enact social change. The BeTogether Ambassadors program helps people feel empowered. It provides people with in-depth guidance on how they can make real and lasting change in their own spaces, regardless of their background in social justice work.”
What’s more, sharing BeTogether programs and initiatives with their friends and networks is another huge part of what ambassadors do. NYU has plenty of resources community members can tap into, such as intimate, topic-based discussions among small groups. Larger-scale resources include the Transformation Talks video series that spotlights NYU community leaders and the Global Scholars & Innovators Series that amplifies the interdisciplinary and intersectional work NYU scholars do at the tops of their fields.
A Student’s Real Experience
Tanisha Thakkar learned about the BeTogether Ambassadors program from other leaders on campus. As vice president of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development’s undergraduate student government and cochair of Steinhardt’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Accessibility (DEIBA) committee, Tanisha spends much of her time advocating for students facing DEIBA issues. In early 2022, she became an ambassador so she could help her undergraduate community even further.
“The BeTogether Ambassadors program helped me understand inclusion and accessibility within the context of NYU instead of just through my own experiences,” says Tanisha. “I think it’s universally agreed upon at NYU that making changes related to diversity, equity, and inclusion is important. The whole basis of the BeTogether Ambassadors program is to instill an understanding of human values and what it means to exist in a space with different identities. This is important because you can’t fight for equality for some; it has to be for all.”
More to Come for the Program
Moving forward, the BeTogether Ambassadors program will teach students, staff, and administrators how to transform NYU’s living, learning, and working spaces. Eventually, the program will expand to the alumni community. Until then, Monroe France (chairperson of the BeTogether effort) says the BeTogether Ambassadors will continue supporting the University’s overarching goals.
“As we build up to major climate assessments of NYU, constant check-ins and data-driven indicators will help ensure we are doing enough for our community,” says France. “It will also help ensure we are on the right path in our efforts toward advancing inclusion, diversity, belonging, equity, and access (GIDBEA) across our global community. This will help inform our practices and redefine our road map to stay relevant and continue to learn for our community and respond to their needs.”
Every person at NYU plays a pivotal role in advancing GIDBEA. To make lasting campus change, students, faculty, administrators, and staff must commit to addressing inequities encountered at NYU and beyond. The NYU BeTogether Ambassadors program teaches people how to do just that.
For more information about the program and its application process, please visit the BeTogether Ambassadors web page.