Attending Dr. Janet Bennett’s Public lecture on ‘Transforming Ourselves, Transforming the World: Intercultural Competence for Social Justice’ at University of Groningen on 13 January 2016 is the highlight of my visit to Groningen, in The Netherlands.
Dr. Janet Bennett is executive director of the Intercultural Communication Institute and chair of the ICI/University of the Pacific Master of Arts in Intercultural Relations program. The pleasure of listening to her is one thing, meeting her personally is another thing. She is a clear example of a person who is interculturally competent. She makes everybody feels comfortable inside the big hall of this northern Dutch Renaissance building. There was no anxiety.
In this public lecture, that is co-sponsored by SIETAR (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research) Nederland, she discussed the relevance of intercultural competence for social justice, especially considering the nature of current global affairs. She gave compelling reasons why we need to integrate diversity issues into culture learning by transforming ourselves and the world intercultural competence for social justice.
Diversity is defined as cultural differences in values, beliefs and behaviors including nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, physical characteristics, sexual orientation, economic status, education, profession, religion, organizational affiliation, and any other cultural differences learned and shared by a group of interacting people.
Intercultural learning is an area of research, study and application of knowledge about different cultures, their differences and similarities in dealing with cross-cultural contact.
Integrating Cultural Learning into Diversity
The notion that domestic inclusion initiatives can be exported globally has now been identified as ethnocentric
The content of domestic programs may be alien to other environments and cultures. While we often modify examples to export the training and development, the training design and implementation is often ill suited to the learning.
The artificial bifurcation of training for global sojourners as completely different from diversity training at home leaves individuals unprepared for bridging cultures.
International students are puzzled by diversity issues at their universities; they impose their home country’s perspective on social issues as guests in other countries; and international corporate managers are befuddled by typical diversity standards in the organization as they relate to gender, sexual orientation, and race.
Finally, the migration of refugees, immigrants, and transferees posed the question of “Who is ethnically diverse?”
What is the recently arrived non-English speaking Somalian immigrant in Australia? Is she Somalian? Is she Australian? Is her identity based on her passport culture? What about the Irish man? Is he a white male? Is this biracial/bicultural student one culture or the other? Both? What is domestic? What is global? Whether in education or the corporate context, despite high quality domestic inclusion models, the global perspective is often missing if not downright marginalized.
There is no shortage of organization mission statements that urge the workforce or the campus to value, respect, and appreciate diversity.
They offer suggestions of the outcomes to be achieved: greater productivity, better customer service/student satisfaction, competitive advantage, increased retention, global citizenship, community impact, increased market share, and effective management.
Integrating Diversity Issues into Culture Learning
Global competency demands local competency. Local competency is now global.
Whether we are experiencing gender differences, immigrants, ethnic, or global diversity, many of us now enter our organizations confident that few, if any, of our colleagues will share our worldview or our cultural norms. By understanding how others think and learn, we can capitalize on those opportunities, and limit the cultural barriers.
The notion that privilege affects all cultural interactions is an essential piece of cultivating intercultural competence.
There is a need to fully comprehend the persistent and subtle (as well as not-so-subtle) impact of privilege as an essential component of many cultural interactions. Whether through status, appearance, gender, color, ethnicity, affiliation, class, or other means of power distance, various forms of privilege are an ever-present aspect of culture.
A part of the professional responsibility of interculturalists is to contribute to social justice in the world.
Part of our work is the responsibility to effect change in the world using the skills and competencies we teach others.
The workplace and educational institutions of today present a cultural complexity that challenges us to build bridges across barriers created by prejudice.
We work to soften barriers with cultural others, and probing the mysteries of unknown places and peoples. We do so not only to manage more productively and train more effectively, but also sometimes for the sheer pleasure of experiencing differences.
Intercultural competence: A Way to Live In Common With Others
Seeing ourselves as members of a world community and knowing that we share the future with others, requires powerful forms of intercultural competence. Recent research has suggested that the key variable in developing intercultural competence is curiosity about cultural differences.
Intercultural Competence is a set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts.
Intercultural competence provides an overarching perspective for weaving together primary concepts for interacting across both global and domestic differences. Further, the culturally responsive organization allows individuals to do so in a way that honors different values, beliefs, and behaviors, whether the cultural differences are global or domestic. We can—and must–carefully construct a complex, multilayered, widely contexted framework, that is grounded on both/and, not either/or.
What we share both domestically and globally includes the necessity of:
- Knowing our own cultural identities
- Communicating effectively with others
- Developing knowledge, skills and attitudes that foster understanding
- Managing inevitable contact with others
- Solving problems together
- Engaging our own learning
- Working well with culturally different others
Some frequently discussed issues:
- Are internationalists just avoiding the difficult issues that domestic diversity elicits?
- Don’t domestic issues trump global considerations?
- Are internationalists just interested in exotic places and people?
- Do those concerned about social transformation in America fail to see that we live in a global world?
- What about refugees, immigrants, international visitors—are they insignificant in the diversity perspective?
- Is citizenship global or international in the 21st century?
- If we think globally, do we oppress locally?