Developing Intercultural Fluency Through Co-Curricular Programs

Developing Intercultural Fluency Through Co-Curricular Programs

Adam Peck (Illinois State University, USA), Trisha C. Gott (Kansas State University, USA) and Terrence L. Frazier (Michigan State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4108-1.ch007
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Abstract

Intercultural competency is a skill that is not only necessary to live in an increasingly diverse and inter-connected world but also one that is highly prized by employers as well. For those who design effective ways to leverage the context of co-curricular experiences to create meaningful intercultural learning, this kind of learning is not always treated with the kind of complexity it deserves. Intercultural competency may be treated in dualistic terms regarding whether students “have it” or “do not have it.” This is true of many other learning outcomes as well. Students may demonstrate vastly different levels of intercultural understanding even as they intentionally pursue improvement with regard to their skill in this area. This chapter uses Bennet's Development Model of Intercultural Sensitivity as a framework for explaining variations in cultural skill both as a means of assessing a student's competency in this area and for planning their intercultural growth as they proceed through our programs and experiences.
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Introduction

When thinking about co-curricular experiences that can promote intercultural competency, there may be a temptation to look first (and perhaps exclusively) at experiences happening in multicultural or identity-based centers on campus. This stands to reason, as it is the purpose of these areas to promote this kind of learning. But diversity-related learning outcomes are often explicitly-stated institutional priorities that are expressed in mission statements and recruitment materials. To accomplish these objectives in any meaningful way requires a campus-wide commitment that cannot be accomplished by any singular area working alone.

This kind of thinking also neglects the significant intercultural learning that can take place anytime that diverse students work together in pursuit of a goal. This kind of opportunity can be found in the myriad of experiences to learn outside of the classroom. It is not unusual for institutions of various sizes to offer hundreds of cocurricular experiences with diverse missions and perspectives. Each of these experiences can be rife with opportunities for intercultural learning and development.

Yet, for any learning to take place in a co-curricular context, it must be consciously constructed for that purpose. Arguably, too much meaningful learning in the co-curricular is left to chance. Some misunderstand the very concept of experiential learning – believing that learning through experience cannot or should not be guided by the educator. This can lead to a passive approach to student development that undermines the educational value or co-curricular experiences.

Additionally, for those who see the benefit of student learning from experience, their intervention may be limited to measuring this learning for the purposes of assessment. Measuring student growth and development without demonstrating the way in which this learning was planned and implemented as part of a rigorous co-curricular experience is, in a way, an exercise in futility. This chapter makes the case that the interculturally-responsive educator must pay as much attention to creating student learning as they do to measuring that learning through assessment.

Finally, even for those who design effective ways to leverage the context of co-curricular experiences in order to create meaningful intercultural learning, this kind of learning is not always treated with the kind of complexity it deserves. Intercultural competency may be treated in dualistic terms regarding whether students “have it” or “do not have it.” This is true of many other learning outcomes as well. Students may demonstrate vastly different levels of intercultural understanding even as they intentionally pursue improvement with regard to their skill in this area. This chapter uses Bennet’s Development Model of Intercultural sensitivity as a framework for explaining variations in cultural skill both as a means of assessing a student’s competency in this area, and for planning their intercultural growth as they proceed through our programs and experiences.

To those in the field of student affairs, it is no surprise that students learn from their experiences outside of the classroom. Most are able to cite now classic theories like Astin’s (1996) Involvement Theory or Kolb’s (1984) Experiential Learning Theory to support their belief that this learning occurs, and in abundance. However, other stakeholders have not always been as sure. In the forward to the book, “Learning is Not a Sprint,” Stanley Carpenter did not mince words when he wrote:

It is fashionable now for some to talk about the...co-curriculum and its role in student learning. That is, it's fashionable for those of us in student affairs. For nearly all students, most faculty, and the vast majority of parents and politicians, this is nonsense. While they understand that students do change and grow emotionally and socially during college, they do not attribute the change to anything other than natural maturation and some vague notion about the college experience.” (Carpenter, 2012, p. vii).

The movement which has occurred since Dr. Carpenter first wrote these words that seeks to connect student learning from co-curricular experiences to the skills employers want, has done much to validate and substantiate the claim that co-curricular learning matters. Building off of the career-readiness competencies developed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, many campuses are enthusiastically measuring how students develop such skills as critical thinking, communication, problem solving, influence and teamwork (Career Readiness Defined, n.d.).

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