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Taylor joins in discussion on blending multicultural, international education

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu - December 10, 2007

A national movement is afoot to bridge the gap between internationalization and multicultural education in higher education, and the University of Connecticut is involved in the discussions.

The American Council on Education (ACE) is proposing to launch a three-year, multi-institutional initiative to model good practice for promoting greater collaboration between internationalization and multicultural education.

In late October, ACE invited officials from 15 higher education institutions to Washington, D.C. to serve as an advisory group to help refine the proposal and to plan for a national symposium to be held in summer 2008.

UConn was represented by Ronald Taylor, vice provost for multicultural and international affairs.

In a paper, ACE says the human tendency to create dichotomies has meant that multiculturalism, loosely defined as domestic diversity, has been contrasted with and separated from international issues.

“Few institutions have brought internationalization and multicultural education together in synergistic and complementary ways and, consequently, the educational approaches for teaching about difference do not truly reflect the pluralism of American society, nor do they adequately prepare students for this global era.”

UConn is among a handful of institutions that have combined multicultural and international affairs.

When the administration put international affairs under the same umbrella as multicultural affairs five years ago, the move was little understood, says Taylor, but “it was really very forward-looking.”

Since that time, he says, “we’ve been melding philosophies and the way we operate. It took us a fair number of years to get people to understand that we’re all heading in the same direction and share many of the same assumptions.

“The risk of doing things in our separate silos is that it perpetuates what we perceive to be the correctness of our own perspective,” he adds.

Boris Bravo-Ureta, executive director of international affairs, says he has become increasingly enthusiastic about the move.

He says the Department of International Services and Programs, in particular, has changed significantly since it was relocated to the Student Union, along with the other cultural centers.

“It used to be very much a separate operation,” he says.

“Now we are able to increasingly integrate it with the other centers.”

Bravo-Ureta says he hopes to see an “ever closer connection” in terms of joint activities and programming, and also further integrated research efforts.

Jeffrey Ogbar, associate professor of history and director of the Institute for African American Studies, says that although the African American Studies program at UConn has had a longstanding interest in issues related to the African Diaspora, having the various units together has influenced the Institute’s choice of programs, “to make connections with meaningful impact beyond the U.S.”

For example, the Institute has been one of the University sponsors of the Amistad Study Abroad program, which took students to Africa this fall and will head to the Caribbean in the spring.

Elizabeth Mahan, associate executive director of international affairs, says there is a case for combining multicultural and international affairs.

“What makes society in the U.S. multicultural is no longer the traditional minorities but new immigrants who create new cultures and subcultures in the society. The U.S. is not a separate, coherent culture and that means we have to think about what is ‘multicultural’ in a different way, and think about what is ‘international’ in a different way, too.”

Taylor points to 9/11 as one of the reasons the issue has now come to the fore in higher education.

“9/11 helped demonstrate that we were sorely lacking in knowledge of other cultures and other perspectives, and that needed to change,” he says.

“The focus on national as opposed to international is ultimately artificial.

“We’re a country of different cultures,” he adds, “but the irony is that over time, we’ve become so insular in our perspective. We’ve not invested much in thinking about the rest of the world.”

He notes that UConn’s revised general education requirements, which took effect in 2005, recognize the need for students to be exposed to international as well as domestic diversity.

The issue of integrating multiculturalism and internationalization is now being pursued not only by ACE but also by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“These are the two biggest higher education organizations in the U.S.,” says Taylor.

“I think we can be sure this notion will take root.”

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