Culture; Identity; Difference; Education; Diversity
The University of Rhode Island subscribes to particular values that govern the cohesiveness and unity of the community. These are referred to as the URI cornerstones. Three of the cornerstones that encourage social and academic growth with regard to social difference are:
- Pursuing knowledge with honesty, integrity, and courage
- We respect the rights and dignity of each individual group. We reject prejudice and intolerance, and we work to understand differences
- We promote Independent choice, intellectual curiosity, open-mindedness, and free expression
These values have embedded in them a consciousness that should allow students to feel confident in engaging with others that are different from them. However, it is clear that many students struggle with how to approach conversations that involve the construction of difference. Having the proper vocabulary and theoretical background is imperative to participating in dialogue that will result in greater understanding and fulfilling these cornerstones. Whether one identifies with a majority or minoritized group, it is essential to engage in difficult discussions that result in a receptive and critical learning environment. At this moment, there exists a divide between students who actively seek out how to be more aware of critical issues, and others who may feel reluctant to partake in this type of learning because they feel it has no value to them or because they are hesitant due to fear.
Through an assessment of the university’s values and community input, the idea for a Cultural Competency minor developed. This minor takes an interdisciplinary approach to defining culture. Being able to examine difference with a critical lens leads to greater cultural competence due to the expanded perceptions of the ways in which we comprehend the experiences of those different from us. After a grounded theoretical foundation is attained, as a capstone, students are then challenged to actively apply their knowledge through the lens of social equity. This requires students to immerse themselves in an environment where they are not part of the dominant master status.