This week’s Thrive workshop, titled “Can We Be Different Together?”, took a look at what it means to build a diverse community among the students of Northwestern’s campus. Kevin McMahan, Associate Dean for Intercultural Development, and Rahn Franklin Jr., Director of Multicultural Student Development, led the session.
One of the workshop’s specific themes was how to overcome some of the subconscious assumptions with which people of all cultures struggle.
“There are three components to cultural competence,” Franklin said. “Knowledge of your own culture conditioning and worldviews, having an attitude of openness and curiosity, and skills in verbal and nonverbal communication.”
When interacting with someone new, whether or not they’re from the same culture, Franklin believes establishing a connection of understanding is important. This becomes especially critical if you’re interacting with someone who may not feel as comfortable yet with the language or surrounding culture.
“Things like eye contact and doing things to show the other person you’re listening are key,” Franklin said. “Smile, nod your head, respond, and ask questions.”
There are a number of clubs available for NW students who are interested in meeting and learning about students from other cultural backgrounds. The International Club, or I-Club, is an event-oriented club meant to bridge cultural gaps and build friendships between students from different places.
“A lot of people seem to think the I-Club is just for international students, but it’s not,” said Diviya Nyanaguru, former I-Club president. “It’s for everyone who is interested in learning about other’s cultures as well as international students.”
Another club focused on campus diversity is La Mosaic.
“La Mosaic is a club for students of color in the United States as well as internationally,” Franklin said. “Where I-Club is generally more of an event-oriented club, La Mosaic is an event- and idea-driven club. La Mosaic gives students an opportunity to discuss and learn more about cultural students on campus.”
NW students have a myriad of opportunities to bridge the gap between cultures in college, even if they can’t join a club. As the Thrive workshop explored, connecting with students of different backgrounds and cultures can be done on a daily basis, simply through genuine and open conversation.
“I feel as though students who already ethnically and culturally fit in are sometimes conditioned to think that noticing others’ differences is racist,” McMahan said. “But it’s better to notice differences and ask about them.”
Nyanaguru, who is herself an international student from Malaysia, suggests that rather than ignoring international students because of their differences, it could be fun to talk to them, sit by them in class and smile.
“Only three percent of students on campus are international, so really just be nice and welcoming to us,” Nyanaguru said.