Diversity and Democracy

Exploring Global Connections: Dismantling the International/Multicultural Divide

The human mind has a powerful and limiting tendency to create binary, oppositional categories as it attempts to understand group identity. As educators, "when we teach about gender, race, and sexual orientation, we warn students about the artificial ways in which Americans dichotomize these characteristics." People tend to define "women" in opposition to "men," "people of color" in opposition to "white people," "youth" in opposition to "age" (Shultz 2006). We warn our students that language can reinforce divides between people when words fail to fully express the continuous nature of identity. This dichotomous language can vastly complicate our attempts to work for social justice (Shultz, Shultz, and García 2007).

Yet as educators, we also dichotomize. We tend to view diversity education as attending to either domestic multiculturalism or to global learning, and as a result, we create unnecessary competition for resources. Yet if we start to see U.S. multiculturalism and internationalization as intertwined rather than divided, we can vastly improve our teaching about diversity. If we work together to combine our pedagogical efforts and resources, our work gains "the potential to change the way in which we interact globally and locally" (Shultz, Shultz, and García 2007).

Arcadia University recently reformulated its general education program to address the traditional division between international programs and domestic diversity education. The faculty will implement the new program in the fall of 2008. In crafting our reformed curriculum, we hoped to dismantle divisions between "us" and "them," between international and domestic. We wanted to bring the U.S. into conversation with the rest of the world and fully prepare our students to engage as global citizens.

 

Global Connections Reflection Criteria
  • During the cross-cultural experience students must participate in an electronic portfolio–based reflection that requires them to document the experience and analyze its meanings.
     
  • Global Connections reflections ask students to examine their cross-cultural experiences in order to explore interconnections, interdependence, and inequity and to analyze the relationship between their experiences and world issues and events.
     
  • Global Connections reflections ask students to examine their cross cultural experiences in order to focus on the immediate personal (what they are doing), immediate social (how their actions affect others), long-term personal (how their actions prepare them for future goals), and long-term social (how their individual actions affect society).
     
  • Global Connections reflections must utilize electronic portfolios or other means of collecting, examining, and assessing students' reflections.
     
  • The Global Connections reflection requirement may be fulfilled by students enrolling in a stand-alone two-credit reflection component (typically offered online) during their cross-cultural experience. Alternatively, the Global Connections reflection component may be built into a four-credit course that also includes a student's cross-cultural experience (such as a service-learning course, internship, or student teaching).
     

(From the general education curriculum Arcadia Explorations, effective fall 2008, available online at www.arcadia.edu/GenEd.)

Creating Continuity in the Core Curriculum

As we worked toward dismantling the international/domestic dichotomy, we encountered many false starts and missed opportunities. Nevertheless, we are confident that we are moving forward with a new vision of global learning. We hope that our efforts will make our students better prepared to engage in today's multicultural society, both locally and globally.

Since 1993, the university's mission statement has begun with the claim, "Arcadia University prepares students for life in a rapidly changing global society." We primarily met this goal through study abroad programs and an internationalized curriculum. Our curriculum specifically required students either to study abroad or to take one course with significant international content. All students also took a core course called Global Justice. These requirements formed the core of a general education program that positioned Arcadia as a leader in global learning.

The results of our efforts in this regard have been gratifying. The university devoted a great deal of resources to making a name for itself in the arena of international education, and this investment has paid off. In the past fifteen years, the number of Arcadia students who study abroad has increased significantly. About half of our undergraduates present credits earned abroad when they graduate. Arcadia has won a number of prestigious awards and is recognized as having one of the best study abroad programs in the country. The flags that dot our campus are everyday reminders of how important internationalization is to us.

Yet issues of domestic diversity have taken a back seat (Peters-Davis, Shultz, and Wagner 2005). The only requirement related to the U.S. has been Pluralism in the U.S., a course meant to be taken in the second year. Those of us concerned with issues of domestic diversity were unhappy with this imbalance. We began to discuss ways to balance the allocation of resources. This group convinced the university's president that domestic diversity deserved serious attention, and she established a task force charged with exploring the division between internationalization and domestic pluralism. As Ana María García explains in the sidebar, that initial effort proved fruitless.

Curricular Change for Shared Futures

By the fall of 2006, Arcadia's new president, Jerry Greiner, and many others on campus had come to believe that it was time to revise the general education requirements, then more than fifteen years old. At approximately the same time, Arcadia University joined AAC&U's Shared Futures project as one of sixteen institutions committed to infusing global learning into their general education requirements. The synergy that developed between our participation in Shared Futures and our on-campus discussions with the General Education Task Force pushed us toward the reforms we sought.

Although our general education curriculum attempted to ensure that students were exposed to international content via study abroad or international coursework, we felt the need to revisit this model. It became clear to us that critical exploration of global interconnections, interdependence, and inequality across nations (including the U.S.) should be central to the global learning curriculum. Thus we defined "global connections" as an intellectual practice—an ability to take a global perspective—rather than as an area of inquiry in a particular field of study. Our new curriculum requires students to take courses that emphasize these global connections.

The new curriculum also requires students to engage in a global connections experience—an encounter with a cultural context different from the one in which they grew up. Because we see global learning and U.S. pluralism as tightly interwoven, we do not require this global connections experience to take place abroad. We are eagerly planning several domestic options that allow students to cross racial, economic, and cultural lines without leaving the U.S. During and shortly after this global connections experience, students will reflect on their experiences online, both through electronic portfolios subject to faculty response and in live video forums. This exercise will push them to think about how their perspectives on the U.S. and the world are changing, and to identify examples of interconnection, interdependence, and inequality both at home and abroad.

As we emphasize domestic global connections and the importance of understanding inequality both locally and globally, we hope to engage students in more activities that promote civic engagement through service learning. To this end, we plan to develop faculty-led domestic and international initiatives that address the role of student civic engagement in both global and local contexts. By increasing the focus on service learning, we will help students apply their strengthened knowledge of global connections as they act as global (and local) citizens.

Global Connections Reflection Criteria
  • During the cross-cultural experience students must participate in an electronic portfolio–based reflection that requires them to document the experience and analyze its meanings.
     
  • Global Connections reflections ask students to examine their cross-cultural experiences in order to explore interconnections, interdependence, and inequity and to analyze the relationship between their experiences and world issues and events.
     
  • Global Connections reflections ask students to examine their cross cultural experiences in order to focus on the immediate personal (what they are doing), immediate social (how their actions affect others), long-term personal (how their actions prepare them for future goals), and long-term social (how their individual actions affect society).
     
  • Global Connections reflections must utilize electronic portfolios or other means of collecting, examining, and assessing students' reflections.
     
  • The Global Connections reflection requirement may be fulfilled by students enrolling in a stand-alone two-credit reflection component (typically offered online) during their cross-cultural experience. Alternatively, the Global Connections reflection component may be built into a four-credit course that also includes a student's cross-cultural experience (such as a service-learning course, internship, or student teaching).
     

(From the general education curriculum Arcadia Explorations, effective fall 2008, available online at www.arcadia.edu/GenEd.)

 

Moving from Theory to Practice

As we begin implementing our new program, we face the exciting and daunting prospect of making our ideas a reality for our students. We continue to look to student feedback as a component of that process. Our past experiences with smaller groups of students have shown us that through guided reflection and intentional course work, students can bridge the divide between global learning and multicultural understanding, exploring the inequities that underlie global systems (Montgomery 2007).

By viewing the world through the lenses of interconnection, interdependency, and inequity, our students will begin to understand their role in the creation of a better and more equitable world.

References

Montgomery, I. 2007. Beyond tourism: Race, space, and national identity in London. Diversity Digest 10 (2): 21–22.

Peters-Davis, N., J. Shultz, and A. Wagner. 2005. Connecting the global and the local: The experience of Arcadia University. Diversity Digest 8 (3): 6, 23.

Shultz, N. 2006. Divide and conquer? Teaching/Learning Matters 35:9–10.

Shultz, N., J. Shultz, and A. M. García. 2007. Social order, structural violence, and social justice: Dealing with student resistance in classes on diversity. Presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, August 14, New York City, New York.


Jeffrey Shultz is an assistant provost and professor of education, Ellen Skilton-Sylvester is an associate professor of education and the director of global communications, Norah P. Shultz is the dean of undergraduate studies—all at Arcadia University.

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