Cross-cultural by Design: The Center
for Cultures and Communication at Bloomfield College
By Rashimi Jaipal, associate professor of psychology
and director, Center for Cultures and Communication,
The Center for Cultures and Communication at Bloomfield
College aspires to promote understanding and respect
between cultures. The center, founded in 2002 through
the Bildner NEW JERSEY Campus Diversity Initiative,
is a scholarly and educational resource for the campus
and surrounding community. Its principal program is
the Diversity Training Certificate, a for-credit program
in the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences that
provides diversity education and experience to students
from different majors who will be leaders in their communities.
Some will become professionals in human services, business,
health care, and education, where their diversity training
will be put into practice every day.
The certificate offers a theoretical foundation based
on implicit or subjective culture, an idea drawn from
the fields of cross-cultural psychology and psychological
anthropology. It involves gaining awareness of how one’s
cultural conditioning can influence perceptions of others
and attitudes toward cultural difference. Through center
internships, students organize diversity activities
and cross-cultural communications workshops while also
serving constituencies in the wider community. The center
was conceived as a place where theory and praxis influence,
inform, and enrich each other.
The Center’s Developmental Design
The center’s programming involves three phases.
First, students gain theoretical knowledge. Second,
they become center interns and apply what they learn.
In phase three, graduates from the program become lifelong
affiliates of the center and form a pool of trained
facilitators able to provide diversity training to the
The internship training is based on four approaches:
1. Peer effect: Students learn about
diversity through informal peer-led workshops. In three
years, interns have conducted more than sixteen workshops
in freshmen classes, international student orientations,
residence life orientations, and student organizations.
2. Hospitality: Local students who
host international students demonstrated the enriching
possibilities of intercultural interactions. Interns
have organized welcome dinners, hiking, and bowling
for international students.
3. Cultural immersion: By going on
neighborhood tours led by knowledgeable locals, students
acquire initial exposure to unfamiliar territory. Going
on a guided tour of an Indian neighborhood, for instance,
helped change student attitudes and misconceptions.
4. Rippling outward effect: Center
students take their new intercultural knowledge and
skills into their homes, workplaces, and communities.
The Center’s Niche and Philosophy
The center serves an area of changing demographics.
New Jersey is the port of entry for immigrants from
all over the world. Citizens are exposed to a wide range
of cultures in their daily lives and in the workplace.
The center offers its training particularly to the less
well-served nonprofit world and offers affordable diversity
workshops to agencies in the community.
The center argues that culture includes not just people’s
easily observable outer behavior, but also less observable
internal values and ways of thinking. In order to achieve
cultural competence and attitudes of tolerance, engagement,
and respect for pluralism, one needs to first understand
one’s own subconscious and unarticulated layers
of cultural conditioning. After this, one can begin
to overcome barriers to communicating across cultures.
Instead of the “color-blind” approach that
ignores difference, the center promotes difference as
a pathway to learning, understanding, and community.
Students state that the center’s programs, along
with the certificate courses, have changed how they
view other cultures, made them more culturally aware
and sensitive, and given them more of an appreciation
of their own culture. As a newly established entity,
the center expects to evolve and expand. The center
would like eventually to seed programs involving local
and international collaborations, projects with local
immigrant communities, and more cross-cultural research.
In the face of globalization and a multicultural America,
intercultural competencies are clearly becoming necessities
for building stronger global and local communities.