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Winter 01
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Creating an Intercultural Campus: A New Approach to Diversity
Greg Tanaka, Former Director, The Intercultural Initiative, Loyola Marymount University, and Academic Director, Department of Human Development, Pacific Oaks College, Parker Johnson, Acting Assistant to the President for Intercultural Affairs, Loyola Marymount University, and N. Brian Hu, Director of Institutional Research, Loyola Marymount University

Researchers have recently completed a three-year project to create one of "the first intercultural university campuses" at Loyola Marymount University. As a result of various institutional interventions, results show positive outcomes reflected in increased optimism about race relations, a reduction in incidents of racial harassment, and a strengthened campus community. These findings also suggest that "interculturalism" may constitute an alternative to "multiculturalism" as a framework for cultural diversity.


Four years ago, a rise in acts of racial harassment at Loyola Marymount University prompted a search for new ways to organize our campus understanding about diversity. Formerly all white, the campus had in recent years come to comprise 50 percent students of color. Because of its history, a Western and Eurocentric framework had dominated campus life excluding the cultural voices and histories of people of color. We found that the university's "multicultural" approach to diversity was one founded on a "binary opposition" to whiteness. We believed, therefore, that this approach might be hindering efforts to bring this racially diverse campus together.

To test the feasibility of creating an "intercultural" campus--where "interculturalism" is defined as "learning and sharing across difference where no one culture dominates"--Loyola Marymount University introduced intercultural interventions into all its major internal functions: staff interaction, curriculum, pedagogy, a student certificate program in intercultural competency, and faculty hiring. Using an "action research" approach (Elden and Chisholm, 1993), researchers established six committees working out of the university president's office that reached across all units, ethnic groups, and institutional strata. These committees formed the specific strategies for institutional change.

The Intercultural Plan

Intercultural interventions were created for the major internal functions of the university. A year-long student Certificate Program in Intercultural Competency that made power and privilege the starting point for learning was created for juniors and seniors. In addition, a number of two-hour student intercultural leadership training sessions were organized. For staff intercultural training, two sessions were created to teach employees cultural awareness and how to make their workplaces intercultural. After just two years, 50 percent of all staff had participated voluntarily in these sessions.

A novel idea was also used to build diversity into the curriculum of core academic departments. Loyola Marymount engaged outside consultants from discrete disciplines to work with faculty in key departments on diversifying disciplinary curricula. To teach professors how to teach in a diverse classroom, the project brought in outside consultants to talk about different learning and teaching styles with groups of 20 professors (from mixed disciplines) at a time. To create intercultural discussion in faculty hallways and department meetings, an innovative approach was initiated to increase minority faculty hiring. We invited departments to compete with each other by nominating to the academic vice president "extraordinary candidates" they found on their own, just as any department could do at any time. Many of these approaches can be adapted for use on other campuses.


To track the effects of these organizational changes, focus groups and surveys of students, staff, and faculty were conducted in the first year of the project and again in the third year. Findings show that the intercultural interventions have led to many positive outcomes.

When students, staff, and faculty participate in intercultural activities, they feel more comfortable discussing ethnic issues with others in the campus community, are more likely to have positive interactions with people from different ethnic backgrounds, believe race relations are good on campus, and experience enhanced feelings of control over campus policies. In contrast, when members of the campus community do not participate in intercultural activities, they do not experience improvement in intercultural skills. Where there is high university commitment to interculturalism, faculty and staff indicate higher satisfaction with the environment for teaching and learning, and their intercultural understanding and skills were improved over the previous year.

In 1998 (the first year of the project), African American students reported a significantly higher incidence of racial discrimination than white students, but by 2000 (the final year of the project) there was no significant difference in reports of racial harassment. We believe this is a significant indication that our intercultural approach is having a positive effect on the campus racial climate even though not everyone is participating.

We have now tested intercultural models for all the major functions of a university. We believe that this means a foundation is now in place to create an intercultural university campus. At the same time, only a fraction of the campus community has participated in planned intercultural activities--50 percent of all staff, 20 percent of the faculty and 15 percent of the students. We still have a long way to go, therefore, before this university is truly "an intercultural campus."

This initial research gives us confidence, however, that it is possible to transform an entire organization through a concerted effort to modify behavior in a university's major internal functions--student affairs, curriculum, pedagogy, staff interaction, and faculty hiring. This kind of effort and sustained evaluation is rare in higher education research where many fine studies of diversity are conducted using nationwide survey instruments, but few have tracked the attempt to change an entire institution.

A New Theory Base for Diversity in Higher Education

An earlier study of 157 colleges and universities had established for researchers at LMU that white students at diverse institutions experience greater overall satisfaction with college when they participate personally in cross-cultural learning and social activities (Tanaka, Bonous-Hammarth, and Astin, 1998). A second study had shown, however, that white students at a "multicultural" college felt excluded from diversity and often resentful of it (Tanaka, 1997). It had not been demonstrated whether it might be possible to improve upon a multicultural framework by creating a level playing field for all cultures that includes members of formerly "dominant" cultures.

The form of "interculturalism" developed at Loyola Marymount University--where each person has a voice--appears to be an effective framework for cultural diversity. The model tries to include all cultural voices, but does not put any group on the defensive. In staff training sessions or student dialogues, for example, privilege and victim status are discussed but no one is made into a target. For instance, a white male (or heterosexual) may still find it uncomfortable to participate in some discussions, but s/he may also find great relief in learning that privilege is not initially personal, but structural--and that s/he can help create liberating practices for others. These kind of sessions end by asking participants how they would construct an environment that is favorable to all members of the campus community.


The greatest surprise in administering this project is that the intercultural interventions have had measurable, positive impacts on students, staff and faculty after just two years of actual programming. In addition, it is an encouraging development for higher education research that grants can be the impetus for a working model that, if applied over an extended period of time, might well create a new kind of university campus in the United States.

We believe that we need to move away from binary constructions of culture and difference--and instead envision a social field in which all individuals, whatever their racial or cultural background, including those of formerly "dominant" groups, are accommodated.


Elden, M. and Chisholm, R.F. (1993). Emerging Varieties of Action Research: Introduction to the Special Issue. Human Relations, 46:2, pp. 121–141.

Tanaka, G. (1997). Pico College. In Tierney, W.G. and Lincoln, Y., eds., Representation and the Text, Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Tanaka, G., Bonous-Hammarth, M., and Astin, A. (1998). An Admissions Process for a Multiethnic Society. In Orfield, G. and Miller, E., eds., Chilling Admissions: The Affirmative Action Crisis and the Search for Alternatives. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Publishing Group.

To find out more about interculturalism and its promise as a vehicle for re-invigorating diversity on campus, see Greg Tanaka, The Intercultural Campus: Transcending Culture and Power in American Higher Education (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, forthcoming).

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The form of "interculturalism" developed at Loyola Marymount University--where each person has a voice--appears to be an effective framework for cultural diversity.