Diversity & Inclusion Highlighted at NAFSA 2016
Preparing Tomorrow’s Globally Competent Citizens & Professionals
Ten thousand international educators from around the world recently converged at the Colorado Convention Center for the spring NAFSA 2016 Association of International Educators conference, the largest annual event of its kind. The goal? To sharpen focus on best practices, emerging trends, and new programs designed to prepare tomorrow’s generation of globally competent citizens and professionals. At the top of the list was an interest in how to maximize educational approaches in increasingly diverse classrooms of first-generation college students, minority populations, and international students.
CU Denver hosted more than 500 conference guests to its campus for colloquia, workshop sessions, campus tours, and receptions. A special session hosted by the University of Colorado Denver’s Office of International Affairs and Office of Diversity and Inclusion explored “Inclusion and Impact: Collaboration Between U.S. Diversity and International Offices”. Presenters John Sunnygard, Executive Director, Office of International Affairs, University of Colorado Denver, Brenda J. Allen, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, University of Colorado Denver, and Milton Bennett, Board of Directors, Intercultural Development Research Institute, Milan, Italy, spotlighted the theme of how diversity and international offices having shared goals of respect, inclusion, and student growth can collaborate to create a more positive campus learning and social environment. The presenters shared experiences and ideas for collaboration, and session participants engaged in roundtable discussions surrounding their respective institutions’ issues, concerns, challenges, and approaches.
Participants from universities throughout the U.S. and the world alike expressed a strong desire to see continued collaboration within their institutions’ offices of diversity and their international affairs offices. Although international news services are filled with stories about conflicts between people from different cultures and racial and ethnic groups, many session participants had examples of cooperation among these groups within their institutions. Several participants thought the concept of “diversity and inclusion” needed to include more awareness of not only underrepresented American students on campuses, but also of international students.
In the Office of International Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver, international student and scholar services, international admissions, global education: study abroad and the ESL Academy work closely on a daily and weekly basis with many other university departments, including the Office of Diversion and Inclusion. Together, they strive to provide a successful academic and cultural experience for students through:
- developing curricular programs and relationships
- incorporating High Impact Practices for Diversity and Global Learning into teaching
- collaborating with EOP (Educational Opportunity Programs) and TRIO Student Support Services
- interacting with student organizations
Three times per week, an OIA Global Education: Study Abroad advisor is available in the EOP office to talk to students and provide information about scholarships and study-travel opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds. An example is the OIA/TRiO/EOP collaboration for the CU Denver Maymester program, “Leadership Through a Third Eye: Costa Rica”, which is an Ethnic Studies Course that introduces students to both traditional and non-traditional leadership models. They are able to measure the impact these different models have on the citizens, resources, and the dissemination of services within Costa Rica. The course offers a multi-layered lens of leadership through the experience of American and Costa Rican leaders by exploring what factors influenced their leadership styles and decision-making process.
“Sending American students abroad for study programs provides unique opportunities for expanding a student’s world view,” explained John Sunnygard, Executive Director, Office of International Affairs, University of Colorado Denver,. “To accomplish this, university offices of global education: study abroad work with multiple offices across their campuses.”
During her presentation, Brenda Allen, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, University of Colorado Denver, noted, “While it’s helpful to say as an institution, ‘we’re diverse’, then the next thing to consider is ‘so what—now what’? It’s key to have early interactions, engagement, and planning among different groups committed to diversity and inclusion issues.” This applies not only to student groups, but also to other members of the university, including faculty and post-doc’s.
Speaker Milton Bennett, Intercultural Development Research Institute, presented updated statistics about the “myth of national assimilation and global convergence, known as ‘the melting pot’”. “According to an IBM study, globalization and social diversity actually mean more cross-cultural contact and increased emphasis on cultural differences,” he said. “Marshall McLuhan’s prediction has become true, that ‘ In the global village, our neighbors will be profoundly different from ourselves’”.
Bennett said there are four “wrong” approaches to diversity and inclusion:
- cultural “profiles” do not have personality
- premature focus on contextual information
- too much reliance on language alone creates a “fluent fool”
- too much focus on behavior in terms of simple prejudice reduction
“All of these incorrect approaches are unsustainable,” he said.
There are, however, three sound principles that form constructive foundations for intercultural interactions:
- subjective culture
- interaction analysis
- adaptation strategies
“Value enters an organization when people from different cultures strive to adapt into the organizational context.” he explained. In doing so, they can also maintain their own rich, unique cultural identities.
Following the presentations, session participants broke into smaller table discussions about the ways that their institutions’ international and diversity offices currently collaborated. “We have a large group of mentors now for underrepresented American students as well as for international students,” said a staff member from the University of Rochester. There had been a rash of negative social media about several minority groups and the university launched an educational campaign around the theme, “We’re better than that.”
“Retention is an issue with some of our undergraduate students from different cultural groups,” said Arelis Palacios, from the international office/study abroad, University of Texas, Austin.
“The university is looking at ways to increase initiatives for international students, and deepen the understandings of American students; it’s a never-ending discussion.”
Another session participant said, “It’s also important to find ways to help students overcome their first sense of awkwardness when they’re new to campus, are a minority, first-gen, or international student.”
Cheri Chan, from Concordia University in Irvine, California, commented, “I was very inspired and moved by today’s session. The session in itself was a demonstration of the close working relationship between the three presenters. It made me see how key that is for sustaining deep cross-cultural inclusion and reconciliation on the university campus. What it takes is a dynamic of sincere and committed conversation rooted in relationship.”
Learn more about the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, University of Colorado Denver.
Discover more about the Office of International Affairs.
Read about CU Denver’s international student from Thailand who received the Rosa Parks Diversity Award.