By Gilberto Perez Jr., senior director for intercultural development and educational partnerships
Serving as one of two directors at the Center for Intercultural and International Education at Goshen College brings opportunities to create and it’s exciting to be in a position that allows for doing something for which there is no road map or blueprint. Holding difficult discussions, teaching students to be intercultural leaders and engaging with minority youth on creating a college-going culture can bring uncertainty and disappointment, but also excitement and joy. It often feels like moving into unexplored terrain. What are the paths we are creating as an intercultural team? What is it that we are co-creating with students, faculty and administrators? What are we doing that has never been done before?
The Big Picture Questions – Every Thursday at 10:30 a.m., the intercultural team starts its meeting with the following question: “What big picture question do you bring to today’s meeting?” Sometimes we have one big picture question and other times we have two or three big picture questions. One recent big picture question was: “Is there anything more we can do to prepare for a more diverse student body this coming academic year?” This question led us to ask another set of questions that focused on finding solutions and making an inventory of resources and values of our group. We’ll spend time at our next intercultural retreat thinking and developing strategies for this upcoming challenge.
Getting People’s “Truths” on the Table – Getting people to openly disagree, have honest debate and engage in honest dialogue is no easy task. Through our Difficult Discussions across Difference (3D) dialogues we invite individuals to help one another see each other’s point of view. College campuses across the United States are addressing issues of ethnicity and race, and Goshen College is no different. We are gathering in small circles for dialogue and we hope to have a creative breakthrough on how we act with one another and live with one another. Recently, a student club visited with the intercultural team and asked how to better engage with students of color. This was no easy conversation, but students were open and vulnerable, and together we explored how to connect and listen to students of color.
Partnerships to Detect What’s Missing – Becoming a more diverse college community requires us to walk with trusted partners who can help us see what we cannot see. Having lunch with four African-American pastors to hear what a college campus should do to be more welcoming for African-American students taught us several things about our welcoming work. It is possible to think we have solutions to our problems because we are operating programs and offering support services to diverse students, but our partners are helping us to become more responsive and avoid making mistakes. The partners we are in relationship with are telling stories of how it was for them to enter college and succeed in college. Receiving counsel from partners is helping us detect what is missing in our work.
Doing what has never been done before is about making adjustments in our values, thinking and taking advantage of emerging opportunities. I am enjoying the opportunity to be a part of team that creates and invents pathways forward that produce genuine dialogue, truth-telling and builds relationships with community partners for a better Goshen College.