Last week I came across an e-mail in my inbox introducing a new fellowship program at Penn. At first I skipped over it, like I do most e-mails advertising new programs. Later, I gave it another look, and I’m glad I did. The program in question? Fellows in Building Intercultural Communities.
At first glance, it would seem that this is just another new program at Penn with catchy buzzwords. But when I started reading the e-mail, I realized that this program would provide a service that this campus desperately needs.
The program intends to train freshmen and sophomores about the fundamental aspects of what interculturalism — exploring common ground between different cultural communities — actually means and how it can be applied to practical leadership situations on campus. According to United Minorities Council Vice Chairman Brian Kroener, the program will train students to “embrace the diversity at Penn, be comfortable with it and to lead with that in mind.”
Citing the existence of organizations such as the Asian Pacific Student Coalition and the Latino Coalition, UMC Chairwoman and former Daily Pennsylvanian cartoonist Janice Dow says, “We don’t really have people addressing intercultural dialogue as much as we do about identity groups.” Dow views the current student organizations at Penn as valuable, but reinforcing a “focus on your own community” mentality. Current student leaders focus on strengthening their own communities, but don’t necessarily see the importance of building relationships with other groups on campus. This fellowship program would seek to fundamentally change that culture.
There are many who would point to Tangible Change, a committee that funds events that bring together disparate communities, and the Intercultural Fund, another funding committee that tackles events promoting collaboration between different minority organizations, as evidence that Penn already focuses on bridging gaps between communities. Though these two committees are vital, they are lacking in one crucial area.
It’s not enough to just cobble together an event with an organization that represents a different community, get funding and slap the T-Change or ICF logo on it. Sure, that brings people together for a couple of hours, but it doesn’t truly get students on campus thinking about the fundamental issues behind their collaborations.
Fellows in Building Intercultural Communities can get potential student leaders to delve into these issues and critically analyze them. Dow summarizes it best when she says, “We hope to really get our hands dirty and explore interculturalism and collaboration on the ground level and then hopefully channel people to use resources like T-Change and ICF.”
Once we are able to get leaders in place who can truly bridge the divides that exist among the many diverse communities at Penn, exciting and unique programming will follow — thus better engaging the student body around multicultural issues.
Let me paint this in more practical terms. Right now student leaders use T-Change and ICF as funding sources. They find organizations they usually don’t work with, get funding and organize an event. That event lasts for maybe two hours — people come, get food, they leave. That’s that.
It’s a superficial collaboration. When more student leaders truly understood the importance of interculturalism, a more meaningful interaction can take place among Penn’s diverse student groups.
T-Change and ICF are critical resources in helping student leaders realize events. And Fellows in Building Intercultural Communities will help train a new generation of Penn leaders who truly understand the importance behind these events. You really can’t have one without the other.
The UMC is taking an important step toward ensuring that the next group of leaders genuinely understands the necessity of cross-collaboration and interculturalism. If you are a freshman or a sophomore and you want more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennie Zastrow is a College senior from Wilson, N.Y. and the chairman of the Lambda Alliance. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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