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Cornell symposium honoring Robin M. Williams Jr. to focus on diversity and consensus Oct. 20-21

A two-day symposium, "American Society: Diversity and Consensus," will be held at Cornell Oct. 20-21, both to honor Robin W. Williams Jr., the Henry Scarborough Professor Emeritus of Social Science at Cornell, and to consider a key challenge in contemporary American society.

Sunday's talks will be in the David L. Call Alumni Auditorium, Kennedy Hall, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and Monday's will be in the Statler Hotel Amphitheater, 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. The talks are free to members of the Cornell community and open to the public for a nominal fee

As a nation of immigrants, we have exalted "out of many, one." But as the inequality gap across racial and ethnic groups has widened, the American working consensus on core beliefs, expectations and aspirations appears to be unraveling the American fabric with the theme "out of many, many" echoing throughout the nation, says Phyllis Moen, director of the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center at Cornell and a symposium co-organizer.

"In the past, dominant values of American society, as discussed in Williams' own pathbreaking book, American Society: A Sociological Interpretation, have mirrored Judea-Christian values of tolerance and concern for others, along with the values of rationality and achievement," said Moen. "But cleavages, such as counter-themes of racist particularism and anti-cosmopolitanism, among others, have come to the fore recently and sharp polarizations raise questions regarding our severe ideological conflicts."

The symposium, which is co-sponsored by Cornell, the colleges of Human Ecology and Arts and Sciences, the departments of Sociology and Rural Sociology, the Peace Studies Program and the sociology department at the University of California at Irvine, is to acknowledge and build on the contributions of Williams, a renowned scholar and social scientist, who for over a half-century has focused on the problems and potentials of diversity and consensus in values, beliefs and the broader social fabric.

Discussing issues related to fragmentation, ethnic conflict, inequality, values, consensus and consensus building, and contemporary trends that shape diversity in American society will be scholars from around the country, including sociologist William Julius Wilson of Harvard University, sociologist Charles Tilly of Columbia University, anthropologist James Lowell Gibbs Jr. of Stanford University, Africana studies scholar Gerald David Jaynes of Yale University, sociologist/anthropologist Peter Rose of Smith College, sociologist Charles Moskos of Northwestern University, sociologist Melvin Kohn of Johns Hopkins University, sociologist Charles Hirschman of the University of Washington, sociologist Richard Alba of the State University of New York at Albany, sociologist/anthropologist Milton Yinger of Oberlin College and sociologist Judith Treas of the University of California-Irvine.

From Cornell are sociologist Victor Nee, psychology and women's studies scholar Sandra Bem, economist Robert Frank, sociologist Henry Walker, demographer David Brown, government scholar Sidney Tarrow and labor economist Ronald Ehrenberg.

Topics include a consideration of diversity and inequality in the United States in a variety of forms: economic, racial, gender, immigrant, demographic, religious, cultural and educational. But the symposium also tackles consensus as well, seeking out issues and themes that unite rather than divide.

On Sunday morning, William Julius Wilson, the Malcom Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard and a Cornell A.D. White Professor-at-Large, will present a major address on the absence of jobs in urban America. His new book, When Work Disappears: The World of the Urban Poor, is sparking public discussion and debate about the causes and solutions of poverty in America's inner cities. His talk will be followed by a discussion on diversity and inequality resulting from immigration by Victor Nee and on gender diversity and inequality by Sandra Bem.

The symposium will conclude on Monday with a brief response by Williams, a former chair of the departments of sociology and anthropology at Cornell. Williams is co-editor most recently of A Common Destiny: Blacks and America Society and the co-author of numerous books, including Mutual Accommodation: Ethnic Conflict and Cooperation; American Society: A Sociological Interpretation and Strangers Next Door. He is author of more than 150 articles, monographs and chapters in edited volumes and was the recipient of the Commonwealth Award of Distinguished Service in 1988 for "his work on race relations [that] mark him as one of the outstanding sociologists in the United States."

To register for the full program and to receive a packet of information for $25, contact Donna Dempster-McClain, assistant director of the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center and symposium co-organizer, at telephone (607) 255-5557, fax (607) 255-9856 or e-mail, did1@cornell.edu.