New Center Promotes Intercultural Understanding

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Saint Louis University features several programs that focus on international and cultural studies. The new Center for Intercultural Studies, however, seeks to educate SLU students in a way that goes beyond the facts and figures of various countries and their diverse cultures.

“Everyone is immersed in a culture, a system we use to make sense of the world,” Michal Rozbicki, the new Director of The Center for Intercultural Studies, said. “So why all these wars and quarrels? Because people only look from within their own cultures, which is not always compatible. I want to study the interactions between cultures.”

Rozbicki, an associate professor of history and a native of Poland, got the idea for the Center for Intercultural Studies approximately four years ago when he felt the university needed to internationalize its community more. The Center for Intercultural Studies officially began its efforts in July, and it is already looking to expand. Rozbicki hopes to bring faculty together from across different disciplines to create an extensive, interdisciplinary intercultural experience. He believes that there is something worth bringing to the center from all the departments across the University.

“I’ve talked to about 100 faculty from places like Arts and Sciences, the Law School, Education, Medical School and Public Health, and I find people who understand these cultural issues,” said Rozbicki. “We’ll have a much greater sense of internationalization if we bring in these different perspectives.”

The mission of The Center for Intercultural Studies has three components. It aims to foster research focusing on interaction among different cultures, to provide students with training in dealing with these interactions and to promote connections between the cultures in question. The hope is to start a degree program by 2016, but now one of the main focuses is to educate students in a way that promotes intercultural competency, something Rozbicki sees as an important quality in a rapidly globalizing world.

“In my field, history, most people don’t know about these relationships,” Rozbicki said. “Someone may say the Mayflower landed in Plymouth in 1620 full of religious fanatics. Well, that’s a modern statement. The Puritans thought they had it right, and were better off than the Christians back in England. If you were to label them fanatics, you’re discussing a culture different from your own on your terms.”

At the moment, The Center for Intercultural Studies is focusing on graduate level work and developing a research base, but Rozbicki has talked to the Student Government Association about ways he can attract undergraduate students to the work that is being done.

“We met with [Rozbicki] to discuss the best ways to connect with students,” Patrick Grillot, vice president of academic affairs , said. “Things like forums and speakers that would speak on intercultural issues in an academic way.”

It was also suggested that The Center for Intercultural Studies work with various cultural student organizations to provide programming.

“We thought him partnering with student groups would be a good idea,” Vice President for Diversity and Social Justice Kripa Sreepada said. “This has a lot of potential to be a good educational experience. It’s also a good way to get the faculty and students together.”

Rozbicki agrees, stating he believes that everyone needs some kind of understanding of what’s going on in the world.

“Everyone needs this knowledge,” Rozbicki said. “But they don’t know they need it. The reception has been very positive so far. People are excited about it.”