Bridging Cultures, Connecting Identities
U.S. News’ Best Colleges recently ranked Andrews University as one of the most diverse universities in the nation, tying with two other universities: Rutgers University and the University of Nevada.
Andrews University houses a population of students hailing from many different countries, each bringing their own unique culture. The Black Student Christian Forum (BSCF) acknowledged the difficulty of navigating these various cultures with a panel entitled “The Bridge: Diversity’s Guide to Communication.”
An array of cultures and ethnicities were represented in the panelists: Valerie Sigamani (second year, Master of Divinity), Lead Pastor of One Place Kenley Hall, Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion Michael Nixon, Danielle Barnard (second year, Master of Divinity), president of Black Student Association of the Seminary, and Samuel Fry (senior, political science).
The first topic of discussion was culture—each panelist described their personal relationship with culture and how their identity and culture connect.
Garrison Hayes (third year, Master of Divinity) said “I appreciated the point of Samuel Fry, who commented on some of the difficulties he faces in navigating his culture as a white American, and how society doesn't encourage him to go on a journey of cultural self discovery because his culture is often assumed as the norm.”
Audience members also noted the nonthreatening atmosphere created by the diverse opinions of the panel.
“I think the panel provided good insights into the role culture plays in their interactions with others,” said Annelise Burghardt (sophomore, psychology). “In sharing their personal views and experiences, they opened a safe space for others to express their thoughts and feelings.”
The moderator, Jordaan Houston (second year, Master of Divinity) gave the audience the opportunity to ask the panelists questions. Both panelists and audience members were then given time to share their personal experiences with culture and identity.
During the panel, they also discussed cultural misconceptions and how they affect communication and relationships between people.
Juwel Howard (sophomore, biology major) shared one of her experiences and said, “A big misconception is that all black people identify with an African culture, which is not true because most of us either don't know our African culture or have [not] been able to experience a large part of it.”
The panel brought up the fact that when people hear about cultural misconceptions, they tend to think of race and neglect other factors that contribute to culture, especially one’s nationality.
“My father is a first generation Canadian, with his parents having immigrated from a small German-speaking village in Romania,” Burghardt said. “At home, we definitely are in touch with our German heritage through food, customs, language, etc. However, this facet of me garnered negative attention especially when I was younger. I remember in elementary school, a boy accused me of being a Nazi, and asked me if I hated a Jewish classmate. Instances of this kind still pop up to this day.”
The panel highlighted the importance of recognizing differences between your own culture and others, and understanding the correct way to communicate with these differences in mind.
Through sharing their own stories, the panelists illustrated how assumptions about someone based on race, ethnicity, etc. can be unproductive and damaging to relationships.
The official BSCF twitter account tweeted: “What can you bring to the ‘melting pot’ if you don’t know what or who you are.”
This tweet referred to a point discussed during the panel: America is oftentimes described as a “melting pot”, a place where different peoples, styles, theories, etc., are mixed together. The point was raised that the melting pot metaphor means a person gets thrown into the pot and all of the things distinctive about their culture are boiled off and everyone is left the same.
Ora Battle, (freshman, Spanish studies) stated “I think it's important to hold onto distinctive cultures because it's a part of what makes us individuals. I think by holding onto our cultures while interacting with people who are different from us, we create a more unified and diverse society because we're learning about and experiencing other cultures.”
All in all, the panel discussion brought up and explored many different topics concerning diversity and communication.
“I thought that BSCF chose fantastic voices to represent the varying perspectives found on campus,” said Hayes. “Each person on the panel gave excellent insight and helped make the event a success.”