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Intercultural Competence: Different Doesnt Mean Inferior

By Jessie Alkire
Intercultural competence is a phrase you might have heard around campus lately.
Students, faculty, and staff have rallied together to bring awareness to issues
related to cultural sensitivity on campus.
So what is it? Intercultural competence is the ability to engage, learn from and work
with people whose cultural identity is different from ones own.
From personal observations and the Campus Climate Survey data, there are serious
issues to address about how people are treated due to race and ethnicity,
socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, political ideology, sex, and
disability.
[We should] know enough about various cultures to figure out how and when to
adapt our behaviors, Director of Intercultural and International Student Services
Brandyn Woodard said. And embody the Benedictine Value of Respect for Persons
so that with our initial encounters with human diversity we engage people wanting
to understand, love, and respect, instead of disregard, discount, and fix.
Mexican-American student Guillermo Blanco says he first experienced discrimination
on campus during his first year.
As I was picking a seat on the bus, the girl next to me looked at me from top to
bottom, as if examining me, made a face and turned around, Blanco said. The
best way to describe the look was what are you doing here?
During a class discussion about low income families later that year, Blanco was
offhandedly asked by his professor if he was poor.
[She] turned back around and continued on teaching as if she said nothing wrong,
Blanco said. I was in shock. I had no idea how to react, so I kept it to myself.
These were the first times Blanco experienced discrimination but not the last. He
isnt the only one.
Many students feelings of discrimination and discontent reached a tipping point last
spring after several F.A.M.S.A.K parties took place with offensive themes related to
ethnicity, sexuality, and gender. Students responded with a rally outside of Sexton
calling for better intercultural competency.
It was not students complaining about F.A.M.S.A.K. It was about students being
tired of being discriminated against for their skin color and differences, Blanco
said. It was a scream for help from not only the student body but faculty to make
this a community for all, not a select few.

A forum was held after the events and over 400 people attended. Since then, there
has been an ongoing discussion about how to create change on campus.
The first step is to raise awareness. One way to do so is to attend discussions and
forums on cultural issues. A forum was held last Friday for students to discuss their
thoughts about moving forward. A follow-up forum is scheduled for September 28.
Woodard says we can also raise awareness through courses on campus which give
us context to better understand these issues in relation to our current times. The
Student Development divisions as well as students clubs are committed to raising
awareness too.
We have work to do individually and as a community to know ourselves, each
other, and the people well be encountering as we move about in the world,
Woodard said.
Since last spring, students and faculty have been hard at work on a variety of
projects to create change. Both presidents addressed their commitment to
continuing the discussion during convocation. First-year students learned of
community standards about being inclusive during orientation. A brochure was
mailed out to students and families which included the Human Rights Policy.
Woodard has presented to SJU Senate about ensuring all voices are heard.
Ultimately, Woodard says, change starts with us. We must move forward and use
empathy, practice utilizing intercultural communication skills, and help spread these
useful practices to others.
The one thing that can definitely bring a change is for students, faculty and staff
to understand, Blanco said. Understand that not everyone is the same. Everyone
is different and different does not mean inferior. And always understand that just
because it isnt happening to you does not mean it doesnt exist.