Inclusion specialist Alden E. Habacon discusses efforts to promote intercultural understanding at UBC
A part of UBC’s Place and Promise strategic plan includes a commitment to intercultural understanding, a concept meant to bridge the cultural gap and unify the different groups that make up the UBC community.
Alden E. Habacon, director of Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development, talks about what’s working – and what’s not – at an institution rapidly diversifying.
Why do we need to move beyond living in diversity to better understanding each other?
It’s essential to have a depth of understanding of the diversity that is around us, beyond just exposure or having a familiarity. It’s more than just knowing, for example, that there are different kinds of Chinese in the world. Or that UBC is on Musqueam land. It involves having a more sophisticated understanding of what it means to come from different parts of the world or have thousands of years of family history right here, and how that might affect one’s worldview, communication styles or potential relationship to others. It’s our hope and promise that students, faculty and staff increase their degree of intercultural fluency, not unlike learning a language or culture, as a result of being a part of the UBC community.
How does one become more “interculturally fluent”?
Intercultural understanding can appear and look different everywhere. How one gains intercultural fluency can also vary. What we do know is that proximity to diversity and contact with diversity doesn’t automatically produce understanding. Intercultural understanding happens by intent and by design, through its integration in course content or pedagogy.
What are some examples where you see this happening on campus?
The management training program at UBC, Managing@UBC, is now linked up with the Centre for Intercultural Communication at Continuing Studies, as one example.. The effort to give honorary degrees to the Japanese Canadian UBC students of 1942, whose education at UBC were interrupted by the internment, was another instance of increasing understanding. The on-campus efforts supporting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was also a huge step for raising our collective intercultural understanding.
How do we avoid or prevent cultural misunderstanding?
The first thing is to suspend judgment. Don’t jump to conclusions. What you think you might be seeing, may not be what’s really happening. That’s the most important part. You need time to make sense of what’s actually happening.
Secondly, you have to learn to accept that your worldview is not the only one.
Developing the appropriate communication skills, having a depth of knowledge about the cultural context, and having personal relationships helps to prevent misunderstanding.
Why is doing this work important?
People at UBC have the opportunity to make significant connections with those who are profoundly different. This has the potential to expand their understanding of the world, become more effective leaders, problem solvers and innovators. If we change nothing, the outcome will be the same: a diversity that produces isolation, “ethnic cliquing,” and lost opportunity.