On Being ‘Fully Human’

Students who attend the workshop, during the final session. Photo courtesy of Dave Webster.

Students learn to communicate across cultural divides

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

It’s wasn’t a comfortable experience, holding his own perspective up to the light and reconsidering how he, and others, might perceive and experience the world. But for Connor Murphy ’18 (policy management), it was more eye-opening and rewarding than he could have foreseen.

Murphy is one of 60 students who volunteered to take part in an intensive intercultural workshop on campus, designed to help students communicate more effectively across cultural divides and help build a more inclusive community at Dickinson and beyond, as part of President Margee Ensign's initiative to position Dickinson as a leader in intercultural competency education.

“It was an absolutely awesome experience for our team,” says Murphy, who participated in the workshop along with all of his lacrosse teammates and several student leaders committed to diversity work. “I really enjoyed seeing all the growth and momentum that came out of it.”


Held during the last week of winter break, the workshop was built around the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a theory-based online assessment that measures intercultural competency and identifies areas for growth. After taking the inventory and reviewing group results, the workshop participants attended a series of educational sessions and group activities; those who wished to discuss their individual inventory results had opportunities to meet with specially trained faculty and administrators.

"Intercultural competency is definitely an important skill for all of us, because it allows us to better understand those surrounding us every day [in an] increasingly diverse society," says Jack Doran ’19 (economics), who plays defense on the lacrosse team.

For many, including Doran, Murphy, student-leader Keyshane Whitley '21 (undeclared) and lacrosse midfielder Joel Mayo ‘19 (biochemistry & molecular biology), the session on privilege struck a resounding chord.

"When it comes to race, I know I have no privilege, but this experience showed me what other privileges I may have, such as having fresh water, being able to take warm showers, having heat in our rooms and the privilege of choosing from among myriad food choices," says Whitley, adding that he is reminded of these abundant resources whenever he arrives back on campus after some time at home. "I also learned that the majority of people who attended workshops did not know that they have privilege."

“I had defined ‘white privilege’ as something extra that is given or obtained that gives an individual a greater advantage, but I learned that it really is the fact that white people simply don’t have to think about race in everyday situations,” says Mayo. “White people often don’t have to be worried when getting pulled over or watching a neighbor’s house.”

Mayo adds that he especially enjoyed a session delivered by Vincent Stephens, director of the Popel Shaw Center for Race & Ethnicity, on effective cross-cultural conversation—a skill that he and his teammates had a chance to practice as they got to know student leaders from diverse backgrounds who also took the workshop and added their own perspectives to the mix. 


The student leaders soon discovered that the insights flowed both ways.

As a student of color, Whitley didn't need a workshop to enlighten him to racial injustices in America, but he did find a frank session on racial stereotypes particularly eye-opening. And he says that as exhausting as it can be to speak out about race as one of only few people of color in a given group, he truly enjoyed the conversations he had with lacrosse players. "The few I got to know were amazing people," he says.

Anastasiya Khlopina ’18 (international business & management), an international student from Russia and co-founder of We Introduce Nations to Dickinson (WIND), echoes that sentiment. "I saw so much authenticity, openness, courage and passion for change in people who I once thought were arrogant and indifferent."

"I do a lot of inclusivity training on campus, so I thought I would wind up educating my peers, but I had it backwards—they wound up educating me," says Morgan Bates ’18 (music), a Center for Service, Spirituality & Social Justice volunteer and social-justice peer educator.

Acknowledging similarity was as important as acknowledging difference, says Edward Brown '18 (American studies). "I certainly built some new connections, and I believe that everyone’s participation in the workshop was sincere and authentic," he says. "I wish more people had participated."


Several weeks later, the student-leaders are still in touch with fellow students they met through the workshop, and Bates, an award-winning trumpet player, has even accepted a challenge posed by the lacrosse team: She will play the National Anthem at some of their home games if they come out and support music-department events.

Another idea under discussion, spearheaded by lacrosse player Mitchell Andres ’18 (policy management) is a “Mix it Up” weekly lunch, bringing students together who might not otherwise meet. “The more groups who are involved, the better,” Andres says. So far, 75 students have committed to participating. 

The college’s intercultural competency task force is discussing more ways to keep the momentum going, with help from student leaders and 21 newly trained IDI campus experts. Plans are in place to offer collaborative service projects to deepen bonds among students from different backgrounds.

These are, of course, only first steps toward addressing longstanding and complex social problems. And, as Whitley reminds us, we all have a long way to go. "I think that there are some people who want to stand up and support the push for equity, but they see others not doing anything, so they say, 'I too will do nothing,' even though they know this is a serious issue at hand," he says.

Mayo says he and his teammates got that message loud and clear, and Bates and Khlopina note that positive changes can have ripple effects.

“Dismantling stereotypes takes a lot of intention, but it is absolutely worth it. In fact, it is necessary,” says Khlopina, who reports that the workshop reinvigorated her desire to strive for healing on and off campus. “Perhaps what it takes is to realize that the fight against racism and white supremacy is not just another social justice cause, but a part of being fully human.”

Still, just as humans are imperfect, so is the long path toward understanding and equity. Brown believes that a thoughtful approach is key.

"Forgiveness is an undervalued virtue," Brown says. "When an act of wrongdoing occurs, our society is so quick, in most cases, to enact punishment. There is an appropriate time and place for discipline, but unless that discipline has a restorative or rehabilitative purpose, it will not do anything constructive to mend the relationship that was broken."

Read more about intercultural education at Dickinson in “Global, Sustainable, Intercultural.”



Published February 9, 2018