When a group of students traveled to the Middle East as Ibrahim Middle East Leadership fellows to study inter-religious conflict last summer, they were required to develop a way to impact others based on their experience from the trip.
The group included College sophomore Jeremy Levenson, College senior Tim Pian, College junior and former Daily Pennsylvanian opinion artist Janice Dow and Nursing and Wharton junior G.J. Melendez-Torres.
After returning from a trip through Abu Dhabi, Jordan and Israel, the four students, along with College senior and outgoing United Minorities Council Vice Chairman Brian Kroner, began developing the “Fellowship in Building Intercultural Committees.”
The essay-based applications for the fellowship — which seeks to increase intercultural dialogue on-campus — are being collected online this week. New fellows will be accepted every spring.
Melendez-Torres, also the incoming UMC Chair, explained that FBIC involves “teaching, imparting and discussing” skills necessary for intercultural engagement. Selected fellows will meet five times a semester, attend a retreat to discuss more personal issues and develop their own culminating “intercultural event” at the end of the semester.
In the first session, fellows will be asked to define interculturalism. Later, they will discuss assumptions and perceptions. The curriculum for FBIC, which is entirely peer-led, is written by the students on the FBIC planning board.
“We’re starting from the ground up,” said Melendez-Torres.
According to Kroner and Pian, FBIC is an opportunity for freshmen and sophomores to “network” and to “get to know each other."
Pian emphasized that FBIC is particularly important to Penn’s population because “people on campus tend to clump [according to identity],” adding that there is currently not enough dialogue about interculturalism.
Levenson agreed that many students “self-segregate,” and that students arrive on campus with perceptions about other cultural groups.
Pian and Melendez-Torres clarified that the term “interculturalism” does not necessarily relate to ethnic identity, but could instead refer to activities or other groups — such as the “culture associated with being an athlete,” Pian said.
The purpose of the fellowship, he continued, is to “broker a tangible dialogue of change on campus.”
“We hope this will be something that fellows look forward to,” said Kroner, who explained that FBIC will “start small,” but will expand eventually.
Because it is student-run, FBIC does not currently receive any outside funding.
“We run on love,” Melendez-Torres said.
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