This profile was last updated in 2015
Founded by Professor Mark Rosenblum (director) and Sophia McGee (associate director) through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding (CERRU) was established at CUNY Queens College in 2009. According to McGee, CERRU was created to “provide a safe space for students, faculty, and the surrounding community to come together across ethnic, racial, and religious barriers to discuss issues that affect them and their daily lives.” While primarily a campus-based organization functioning as a student training and research institute, in recent years CERRU has increased its direct involvement with the surrounding community through joint programs and partnerships with other religious and interfaith institutions like the Flushing Interfaith Council [link to profile], the Queens Turkish Cultural Center, the Central Queens Y, and local synagogues. In addition, McGee emphasizes that CERRU hopes its work will shape surrounding areas through a “butterfly effect” in which students involved with CERRU bring the skills and lessons they’ve learned back to their own communities. At the same time, CERRU also regularly collaborates and maintains contact with the Queens College Office of Student Life, and the student and professional leadership of the campus’s various faith based clubs like the Muslim Student Association and the Hillel Club for Jewish Life.
CERRU’s primarily goal, however, is to provide dialogue facilitation and conflict resolution skills training to student cohorts through their fellowship programs. CERRU’s role as what McGee calls a “hybrid organization” has allowed it to be in touch with both the campus administration as well as the needs of the college’s extremely diverse student body.
CERRU is housed in Delaney Hall, which faces the Queens College Quad, and consists of several offices for staff and rooms for meetings with cohorts of students. When there are not formal meetings taking place, students often drop by during their breaks to chat with each other and the CERRU staff, lending the center a vibrant and club-like atmosphere. CERRU’s location within Queens College is itself significant as the college is located in Flushing, which McGee says makes the campus “a reflection of the surrounding community,” given that the neighborhood is “incredibly diverse both ethnically, racially, but also religiously.”
CERRU was founded and is led by the current director, Professor Mark Rosenblum, and by current associate director, Sophia McGee. Four additional full-time staff members do research and work on CERRU’s student training and event programming. The six staff members are all also affiliated with different departments of the College, including the Center for Jewish Studies, the history department, and the Michael Harrington Center for Democratic Values and Social Change. According to McGee, because CERRU is run by a small “really smart, creative, innovative staff,” all decisions are made horizontally. Significantly, McGee emphasizes, the students that CERRU serves are also an important part of CERRU’s decision-making process and help to shape CERRU’s selection of dialogue topics and programming.
Activities and Schedule
CERRU primarily runs programming for three different groups: student fellows, the larger student body, and for religious, communal, and academic institutions in the surrounding area. For the first category, CERRU offers two student fellowships that run the length of the academic year, the Social Change Fellowship and the Dialogue Fellowship. While the goal of both fellowships is to provide students with consistent dialogue facilitation and conflict resolution training (in addition to building connections between the students within these cohorts), the Social Change Fellows focus on learning how to plan, execute, and present on individual “social change projects” while the Dialogue Fellowship focuses more intensely on training students how to curate topics for and facilitate dialogues at CERRU’s events for the larger student body.
In addition to the dialogue events facilitated by the Dialogue Fellows, events for the larger student body include CERRU’s regular book club meetings and “Lunchtime 2.0” events. CERRU’s book club, which meets twice a semester, discusses books that focus on common social issues. The purpose of the Lunchtime 2.0 series is “to provide a mechanism for diverse students to engage and listen to each other” while “redefining the way we think of college cafeterias.” CERRU also regularly hosts “Semester Series” events, which address a common theme through different programmatic means like art, film, and dialogue.
CERRU also hosts several annual events including an “Innovation Exchange,” an Intercultural Fashion Show, and a “Launch Party.” The Innovation Exchange brings together a diverse group of cultural leaders and social entrepreneurs over a variety of common themes. For example, the theme of the 2013 Innovation Exchange was “Re-Imagining America” while the 2014 theme was “New Frontiers: Innovations in the Middle East”. The Launch Party is hosted by various cultural and religious clubs on campus and, in 2014, was themed as multicultural New Year’s celebration. Student leaders of different clubs taught Queens College administrators, professors, and students about their New Year traditions through dance performances, art exhibitions, and traditional foods.
In addition to working with the students of Queens College, CERRU has also led programs at a local elementary school, training sessions at other colleges, and events with local religious institutions.
While there is no official data on the demographics on the larger student body with which CERRU works, their student fellowship programs consist of diverse student cohorts that have included Christian, Muslim, and Jewish students of various denominations and ethnicities as well as students from Hindu and Buddhist groups.
 Sophia McGee. Interview with author. 16 July 2015.
 Sophia McGee. Interview with author. 16 July 2015.