Designing Intercultural and Cross-cultural
By Isabel Nazario, associate vice president,
academic and public partnerships in the arts and humanities,
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick
At Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, the
effort to strengthen diversity has been ongoing. It
has been a fluid process, infusing a dialogic model
for engaging intercultural understanding and linking
cocurricular student activities with academic learning.
Over the years, as knowledge of diversity scholarship
broadened and awareness of the social and academic benefits
of having a diverse environment increased, Rutgers began
to experiment with strategies to create a more “integrative”
In 2000, a task force of the university-wide Committee
to Advance Our Common Purposes reported that, while
Rutgers had made progress in increasing students’
knowledge of global cultures, more work was needed to
deepen intercultural understanding and appreciation.
Two years later, Rutgers organized a steering committee
to implement a new multicampus project funded by a grant
from the Bildner Family Foundation. This project’s
goal was to “infuse diversity and intercultural
competency into the curriculum and make comprehensive
connections among courses and cocurricular learning-based
Through the new initiative, Rutgers made great strides
in providing students with skills and experiences critical
to achieving understanding across differences and creating
a context for cultural pluralism. By the end of the
grant, a network of fifty-two faculty fellows from New
Brunswick, Camden, and Newark had been awarded research
grants. Together they participated in faculty development
and assessment workshops and worked with student affairs
staff to develop programs.
To attain buy-in for diversity across campuses, Rutgers
formed broad-based steering committees consisting of
vice presidents, deans of faculty, department chairs,
faculty members, directors of cultural centers, and
student life and professional staff. Individuals in
these committees worked in teams to produce thematic
programs that connected ideas encountered in the classroom
with activities taking place on campus. This strategy
enabled Rutgers to achieve a higher level of institutional
support for diversity while enhancing the micro-level
efforts already in place. The Bildner initiative created
opportunities for students to seamlessly connect theory
with practice, an approach that proved highly successful
in engaging student leaders, counselors, alumni, and
faculty in a collaborative process of learning.
In assessing the Bildner programs, we found that units
in the university that historically had not worked together
were now sharing ideas, arguing, and developing consensus.
Interrelations across units and divisions in turn fostered
critical opportunities to deepen intercultural knowledge.
Rutgers produced programs with excellent content that
had very high attendance primarily because staff at
all levels were concretely involved and supportive.
In the words of a student leader, “we created
a buzz” for these new learning activities. It
was understood that everyone, including staff and students,
could be instructors in the process.
Through the activities and courses we jointly designed,
students embraced new definitions of historical research
rooted in lived experience. They likewise explored alternative
means of “publishing,” such as classes that
focused on conducting and sharing oral histories that
were adapted into multimedia performance. Profoundly
changed by their participation, they began to actively
and personally partake in their own education rather
than remain passive recipients of knowledge. As they
became empathetic advocates of the people behind the
stories they gathered and told, the classroom was transformed
into a space of intercultural and cross-cultural engagement.
Through the newly established interrelationships between
student and academic affairs, both faculty and staff
provided new space for themselves to experience and
learn from similar cultural encounters.