Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Curricular Transformation
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Connections
Intercultural Learning for Inclusive Excellence
Why Allen and Joan Bildner and the Bildner Family Foundation Funded a Statewide Diversity Initiative
Learning to Listen as We Lead
Institutional Models That Cultivate Comprehensive Change
Curricular Transformation
Where Worlds Converge
Curricular Transformation through Collaborative Teaching
Intercultural Learning in First-Year Seminars
Designing Intercultural and Cross-cultural Spaces
Enhancing Collaborative Leadership of Faculty and Staff
Faculty-Driven Curricular Change
Diversity as Shared Practice
Dialogue Groups at Princeton University Library
Faculty Involvement
Epistles, Posters, and Pizza
Forging Campus-Community Connections
"Beyond Food"
Cross-cultural by Design
Student Experience
Something to Declare
Putting Student Voices in Public Spaces
Café Bergen
Institutional Leadership and Committment
Assessing Diversity Attitudes in First-Year Students
Infusing Cultural Competency into Health Professions Education

Where Worlds Converge: Designs for Intercultural Learning

By Caryn McTighe Musil, senior vice president for diversity, equity, and global initiatives, AAC&U

Preparing students to be constructive forces in an intercultural world is a formidable task for higher education. Cultural differences are rooted in history, weighted differentially, and are ever more complexly interwoven within local and global contexts. But many colleges and universities recognize that learning about and from diversity is a necessary dimension of a twenty-first-century liberal education.

Faculty in the New Jersey Campus Diversity Initiative (NJCDI), funded by the Bildner Family Foundation, charted new intellectual directions in scholarship and introduced innovative pedagogies into classrooms. Partnerships between academic affairs, student affairs, and communities were cultivated. Most importantly, students began to see their world and its people anew, cross unfamiliar social and intellectual boundary lines, and negotiate differences, even in the face of conflict.

Evidence shows that such approaches lead to a greater sense of social responsibility and political engagement. They all bode well for the health of a diverse democracy like ours and for the kinds of global citizens the world so desperately needs.

Emerging Conceptual Themes

NJCDI institutions invested heavily in faculty and curriculum development, but did so with a twist. Most institutions constructed strategic links with student affairs and tied the work of the campus to the resources of the community.

Institutions threaded important concepts like the dynamics of encounter and human displacement. The former emphasizes intersections, interconnectedness, interdependency, power, and positionality, while the latter focuses on migration, diaspora, and colonialism and postcolonialism.

These ideas surfaced in courses as traditional as introduction to music, freshman writing, or an upper-level abnormal psychology course. They led to newly formulated courses like New Jersey: A Sense of Place and People; Race, Nation, and Borders in American Literature; Cultural Diversity and Health Care; and Multimedia Technology for Intercultural Interaction. Examination of intergroup dynamics led to the creation of courses like Something to Declare: Tales of Immigration and Becoming American: Oral History of Asian Americans in New Jersey.

Some courses offered a fresh perspective on interchanges between cultures. African, Native American, and African-American Culture and resistance in the shaping of America, for example, highlights the intercultural, political, and economic processes and how people and cultures interact. A series of modules, Asian Oceans: Teaching Intercultural History, similarly illuminates global configurations that emphasize the histories of interaction and the ways cultures are produced and reproduced. Such lessons are especially relevant in the face of student groups that are sometimes marked by well-guarded ethnic, religious, gendered, and racial boundaries.

Curricular Strategies

The NJCDI institutions used multiple curricular strategies to improve student learning. One cluster of institutions embedded new intercultural courses within first-year seminars or freshman courses. Other campuses sought to redesign departmental offerings through the introductory courses that majors and nonmajors take and upper-division courses designed principally for majors.

The modes of delivering these courses also varied. One institution paired faculty from two different departments in team-taught first-year seminars. Another organized first-year courses around diversity issues and drew faculty from multiple departments who taught a shared set of readings. For others, interdisciplinary frameworks were an intellectual necessity in order to raise historical, economic, literary, scientific, or political questions demanded of intercultural analysis.

A significant number of courses also integrated the community as a component in the course. First-year students at one campus had to satisfy a service-learning requirement or work for eight hours as a cultural apprentice to someone with a different cultural perspective. At another, a writing course linked college students with high school students from a nearby inner-city school.

Innovative Pedagogies

Some proven pedagogies—student-centered, problem-based, active, hands-on learning involving multiple learners—were commonplace in many of the intercultural learning courses developed for the NJCDI. To investigate cultural perspectives, courses drew on students’ personal identities as resources. This, in turn, led to using written ethno-autobiographies, personal artifacts that revealed aspects of students’ cultural legacies, or kinship charts mapping familial intercultural patterns.

Some professors trained students in ethnographic methodology and oral history, which allowed students to interview local residents and deepen their intercultural interactions. As students brought the stories they had gathered into their classroom, it became a vibrant space of intercultural engagement and exploration.

Several institutions developed courses that sought to create more permanent community and student archive collections. Two institutions developed intercultural centers involving faculty and students in new partnerships with the larger community, thus enlarging the sphere for everyone’s range of intercultural learning.

Linking Classrooms and Campus Life

NJCDI schools also redrew the boundary lines between student and academic affairs. Some of the faculty development seminars and workshops deliberately included people beyond faculty ranks, and on the majority of campuses there were concerted efforts to coordinate curricular and cocurricular educational planning.

For example, an introductory music course that had been reformulated to focus on how people across the globe define, create, value, and use music was linked with a cocurricular concert in which an Israeli cellist performed music written by a Palestinian composer. The performer and composer together discussed how Jewish and Arabic cultures became intertwined during the eleventh century.

Another campus focused curricular and cocurricular activities on Freedom Summer, with thematic first-year courses on student activism, interdisciplinary upper-division courses, orientation and convocation, as well as films, art exhibits, and voter registration drives. Such joint programming efforts enhanced student learning in the courses themselves and increased the number of students attending events outside of class. Everyone benefited.

The intercultural learning turned out to be no mere abstraction on these New Jersey campuses. It ultimately involved crossing all kinds of cultural divides—between disciplines, student and academic affairs, campus and community, and modes of scholarship. Forging such new understandings and practices in the rich but sometimes contentious intercultural legacies that characterize students, institutions, communities, and the larger world might actually be understood as democracy’s best asset.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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