The Importance of Culture on Campus | OP-ED
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We often talk about the importance of education and its impact on individuals and the greater community. That is not confined to just academics. Exposure and interaction with cultures different from ours can immeasurably expand our world. Learning about others’ experiences allows us to better understand the broader world around us.
Just as with academic learning, cultural learning is something that we can bring back to our families and communities, broadening their understanding and increasing our interconnectivity. Exposure to diversity will also help students as they enter the workforce by opening them to different viewpoints. It also makes sense for business, too – according to McKinsey & Company research, companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 36 percent more likely to outperform their peers in the bottom quartile.
Higher education institutions are among the ideal environments to allow for this type of learning, interaction, and flow of perspectives. By their very nature, universities bring us together with the common goal of learning – both in academics and our greater environments. We have this special opportunity to spend time together and gain an understanding of each other’s backgrounds, traditions, and lives. These interactions sometimes occur in the formal settings of a classroom, club, or speaker. Increasingly, students are seeking these experiences as part of their education. According to Best Colleges, 53 percent of students are interested in participating in on-campus diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and 73 percent believe that a diverse staff will benefit an institution.
Our Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (JDEI) Committee recently held Meeting New People: A Conversation about Implicit Bias. More than 40 staff and faculty members met to discuss the important topic of implicit bias. Participants shared their thoughts on how to reduce bias when meeting new people. Actions were discussed to improve how we engage with others to strengthen our commitment to family and treat all with dignity and respect. These types of events provide a structured opportunity to hear, learn, and develop actionable plans.
More often than not, and sometimes in the most valuable way, expanding our viewpoints happens through the chance encounters and everyday interactions that occur. Over the summer, we launched free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for recently arrived Ukrainians. These classes have helped to foster a wonderful cross-cultural exchange between the student/peer tutors and the students. While the Ukrainian students are learning about Philadelphia and our community, our student/peer tutors have developed hands-on experience teaching ESL while, even more importantly, learning about Ukrainian culture.
I hope that the exposure to other cultures and understanding of others that they encounter at Holy Family University is something our students will take with them after graduation, ingraining it into their journey, and enabling them to approach their future with a broadened perspective on the world.
(*) President Holy Family University