Where Worlds Converge: Designs for
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
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.
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.
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
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
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