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
(2005)

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
Resources
Crossing Borders: Interdisciplinary Centers and Global Learning
Resources for Shared Futures
Research
The Curricular Disconnect
 

Hybrid Student Identities: A Resource for Global Learning

By Celeste Schenck, professor of comparative literature and vice president for academic planning, The American University of Paris

Marybeth Gasman

 

“There’s no place like AUP” is the motto of The American University of Paris, a small, private, international, liberal arts university on the banks of the Seine. Characterized as much by its surprising demographics as by its American pedagogical philosophy, AUP has over a hundred different nationalities represented in its small student body and over twenty in its faculty of one hundred. To make matters more interesting, most of these individuals think of themselves as hybrids holding several different passports rather than identifying with a single nationality. AUP is an institution with a faculty, staff, and student body so increasingly diverse as to make its American project, at times, challenging. Discontinuities, contradictions, and heteroglossia (both linguistic and cultural) are so much the norm that AUP is defined by this métissage more fully than by some clear demarcation between American and international. For precisely these reasons, AUP is a natural laboratory for developing a pedagogy appropriate to the world our students are inheriting.

This singular mixture of identities—there is no national majority—does not come without struggle, and thus AUP rejects the utopian multiculturalism found in many college catalogs and viewbooks. Often, classrooms are sites of conflict resolution (and prevention). A few years back, for instance, in a course on the Balkans crisis, American students unsure of the exact location of the former Yugoslavia struggled hard along with Bosnians, Serbs, and Croatians to find a common language for exploration. Experimenting with ways to manage imaginatively the endowment of AUP’s various, inevitably conflicting “locations,” its faculty has recently transformed its general education program from a distribution requirement to a four-year curricular opportunity for faculty and students together to “envision a world of interdependence.” As AUP’s catalog explains, the university “aims to foster in its students a critical, informed, active belonging to the world that responds to, and helps shape, the intellectual and practical challenges of the twenty-first century.” General studies is anchored in global questions. From the FirstBridge learning communities through the new senior capstone, the faculty has sought to create learning environments in which students’ complex multiple identities drive them to negotiate difference. Such curricular opportunities also include metacritical reflection on the challenges, the difficulties, and the crucial need for practicing the arts of democracy in diverse populations.

AUP’s efforts to create a capstone course that would provide both a student-centered culminating exercise as well as embedded assessment for the general education program may be characterized as a rich, if occasionally rocky, process. In the interest of succinctness, here are a few “snapshots.”

As a participating team in the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Liberal Education and Global Citizenship project, one group of AUP faculty envisioned “Re-Negotiating Nationhood” as an outside-the-box curricular experiment providing exceptional opportunities for work across languages, cultures, and disciplines. This advanced generalist’s course would call for student teams and faculty to work for an entire year on a particular global hot spot, meeting with world experts, studying maps and statistics, doing feasibility studies, and compiling and evaluating opinions.

A second team moved the project through the approval to the implementation stage, reimagining it around the theme of “Viewing and Re-Viewing Islam.” An AUP faculty member specializing in Islamic economics prepared the course questions for students, organized an interactive lecture and film series, and directed a learning community made up of juniors, seniors, and AUP faculty participants. Students demonstrate mastery of a body of information before building models and writing position papers, or conducting debates and projects. AUP faculty model how educated, informed citizens gather and evaluate information. They also lead thematically organized teamwork on such topics as European unification, Muslims in France, Islam’s evolving identities and debates with modernity, Islamic bodies (the veil and sexuality), and Islam’s hermeneutic and interpretative traditions in its art and literature. Students work in teams to plan an international, interdisciplinary conference.

To take these capstone courses, students must be able to function across languages and cultures in teams; to discover, work through, negotiate, and refine the arts of democratic debate and action; to take increasing responsibility for their own learning; to produce collaborative work, both oral and written; and to submit this work publicly to professionals from outside the university. The capstone performance of students ultimately permits AUP’s faculty to assess its general education goals.

By staging multiple opportunities to simulate real-world issues, AUP hopes to help its students find workable, dignified, empowering solutions to the seemingly insurmountable problems posed by the contemporary world.

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