Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 8, Number 3

Diversity Digest
Volume 8,
Number 3

Download our print issue (PDF)
Curricular Transformation
Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility
Recasting Religious Studies at Beloit College
Hybrid Student Identities: A Resource
for Global Learning
Global Education Continuum—
Four Phases
New Global Studies Degree Combines Liberal Arts and Preprofessional Disciplines
Globalizing the Curriculum
Campus-Community Involvement
Student Civic Engagement at Home
and Abroad
Looking Within to See the World
Institutional Leadership
Shared Futures? The Interconnections
of Global and U.S. Diversity
Connecting the Global and the Local: The Experience of Arcadia University
Partnership in Education for a Sustainable Future
Student Experience
Engaging Diversity on the Homogeneous Campus: The Power
of Immersion Experiences
Crossing Borders: Interdisciplinary Centers and Global Learning
Resources for Shared Futures
The Curricular Disconnect

Engaging Diversity on the Homogeneous Campus: The Power of Immersion Experiences

By Lauren Bowen, department chair and associate professor, Department of Political Science, John Carroll University

Students from JCU in Mexico

Students from JCU in Mexico

To promote global learning, John Carroll University (JCU) has linked international immersion trips with academic coursework by offering additional academic credit to students who both enroll in relevant courses and participate in the trips. This new structure has encouraged faculty members and student affairs professionals to think more intentionally and consciously about democratic practice.

For those organizing courses, this has meant moving from the theoretical to the practical, while for those organizing field experiences, it may have meant the reverse. The synergy from this collaboration has allowed JCU to navigate between an analysis of structures and forces that are larger than individuals and the actions of small groups of individuals that may seem removed from institutions and systems. Too often in the classroom, problems seem intractable; too often in service-based experiences, solutions and panaceas seem too apparent and simplistic. To counter such dilemmas, JCU has forged a relationship between the experiential and the theoretical using complex interactions between globalization and citizenship.

Immersion experiences coupled with coursework have underscored the relationship between diversity and democracy. John Carroll, like many similarly situated campuses, is racially homogeneous and, from all outward appearances, is also culturally and economically homogeneous. One of the most frequent laments of graduates and current students is the lack of diversity. However, the students who have had the opportunity to participate in immersion trips are able to articulate the ways in which the experience challenged them to understand race, ethnicity, and class differently. Homogeneous campuses can therefore infuse a commitment to diversity by using short-term immersion experiences connected to courses that also have a critical reflective component.

At first, faculty at JCU were somewhat skeptical of this approach, fearing that students would be little more than tourists or voyeurs. However, faculty are now convinced that even week-long experiences, if appropriately organized and structured, can be transformative and substantive. For example, instead of the usual tourist sites, students in El Salvador visited prisons, universities, and women’s shelters. Similarly, students in the service trip to Tijuana, Mexico, visited migrant shelters and orphanages in addition to attending lectures, seminars, and cultural events. Perhaps most significantly, they spent several mornings participating in work projects alongside community members. They mixed cement to pave playgrounds at schools or build roads, and worked as a team with community members. The community development/empowerment model used by Los Niños, the NGO that built the itinerary, demonstrated democratic practice far more effectively than classroom discussions could. When they recount their participation in these self-help projects, JCU students speak forcefully about the collective gain in volunteerism and civic engagement. In addition, they see the lessons they learned as transferable. Several have even altered their postgraduation plans as a result of these experiences.

To connect the curricular and cocurricular more intentionally, JCU is initiating a Student Speakers’ Bureau that relies heavily upon students who have participated in immersion trips in Latin America. As a part of this program, panels of two to three students organize presentations tailored to connect to courses in the curriculum. The student panel then makes class presentations, discussing the personal and academic impact of their experience and engaging the other students in meaningful interaction. All first-year students are enrolled in a seminar entitled “Democracy, Science and Capitalism,” and those who hear peers share their first-person narratives and explain how they were transformed by the short-term immersion experiences have the opportunity to participate in powerful discussions about diversity and democracy. The panels also make a homogeneous campus attend in new ways and with expanded understandings to people whose lives are significantly different than theirs. The very act of communicating to others the insights gleaned from the immersion experience deepens the learning for those students who went abroad.

The short immersion trips, then, force students to step outside their culture, their country, and their experience. Students participating in the trips confront poverty, economic and social injustice, and oppression on the basis of race and sex. The college provides students the analytic tools to understand what they experience and see. Living away from home and yet in a community, even for a short period of time, can powerfully deepen understandings of globalization and help students rethink how they conceptualize democracy.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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