Trust and authentic conversation

studentsStudents at our colleges and universities are becoming increasingly diverse, and many of our schools are promoting diversity initiatives on campus. But how often do students get a chance for meaningful conversation with people from different backgrounds?

We’ve all heard that authentic conversation is one of the building blocks of trust. For our students, this may be the first time they have an opportunity to meet someone from a very different background. Developing curiosity and respect for other people’s traditions will help them succeed in school and also in the world of work. At the same time it can also present a challenge for faculty and staff who want to provide safe environments where students trust each other enough to engage in deeper dialogue.

I just attended our MnSCU Academic and Student Affairs leadership conference and heard about a creative idea to address this problem. Tiffany Korver and Jan Stanley from St. Cloud Technical and Community College have developed a collaborative partnership that builds cross-cultural dialogue into the curriculum.

Stanley teaches a course in cultural anthropology and Korver teaches an introductory writing course aimed at ESL learners. As part of each course, students meet together several times to interview each other and learn about a variety of subjects such as cultural traditions, work, family, and even religion. Students are then assigned to write papers that apply their experiences to the course content.

For the ESL students, it’s a chance to practice speaking, increase their vocabulary, and use their writing skills to explain aspects of their cultures. The anthropology students are able to develop curiosity and and apply textbook knowledge to real-life interviews. Both groups report that they recognized their commonalities and were able to develop a stronger campus community.

What examples have you seen of creative ways to create connections?

Dee Anne Bonebright

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