Tips for Engaging Faculty in Building Intercultural Competence

Jul 12, 2022
Notebook, pen & glasses

Over the past several months, I’ve been discussing how colleges and universities can engage more faculty in building intercultural competence. In April’s blog, I shared a few of my own observations and related resources. In May and June, I discussed two case studies. The first offered an example of how one institution—Drake University—is developing faculty’s intercultural capacity. The second explored the significant ripple effects that Carroll Community College has experienced as a result of supporting one faculty member’s intercultural development.

In this post, I summarize and highlight some key take-aways from these case studies and from my own experience working with many different higher education institutions and educators.

In no particular order, here are a few things I suggest considering when it comes to engaging faculty in building intercultural competence at your institution:

Help faculty members identify connections between their own discipline, work, or goals and intercultural competence. Faculty need to find their own why for engaging in intercultural work. Administrators who want to help faculty make these connections should first aim to understand what’s important to them and their departments. What are their goals when it comes to preparing students for a career in that field? What do they feel graduates need to learn to thrive in life? What challenges do they face in their teaching and work?

Once you better understand faculty’s goals, desires, and challenges, you can help them understand why they might want to develop their intercultural teaching and learning capacity, and better support them in doing so. It’s important to establish some shared language and understanding around what intercultural competence is (and isn’t). You might consider sharing and even facilitating a conversation around the following free training: Interculturally Competent U: The What, Why & How of Building Intercultural Competence in Higher Education (the training includes a free discussion guide).

Don’t be afraid to start organically. In the case studies I’ve discussed, neither Drake University nor Carroll Community College waited until they had a perfectly-crafted five-year plan. In both cases, intercultural efforts sprung from the actions of one or a few individuals. Those individuals started in a way that felt feasible, and efforts grew from there.

Start with those who are interested and expand from there. In all of my years working with students, faculty, and staff in higher education, I have never found it particularly useful to mandate participation in intercultural teaching and learning efforts. Instead, I’ve focused on providing excellent developmental training to those who are interested in receiving such support, and letting their actions inspire others to get involved.

Both schools in the case studies I’ve discussed began by providing support and training to faculty (and staff) who recognized the relevance of intercultural competence to their work. As those educators integrated what they learned into their work and shared their learning with others, they inspired more colleagues to get involved. The case studies also suggest that directly inviting individual colleagues to participate can be a helpful strategy, leading to greater participation than might come simply from an open invitation.

Connect intercultural efforts to institutional structures and systems whenever feasible. In both case studies, intercultural capacity-building efforts began organically. However, those involved also continually looked for ways to connect what they were doing to their school’s structures and systems—for example, by utilizing current professional development funds, connecting efforts to the institution’s mission, incorporating faculty training into the process of overhauling general education requirements, recognizing and compensating participants, connecting participation to professional development and promotion processes, etc. Tying intercultural efforts into institutional structures and systems helps ensure their sustainability.

Recognize and compensate the time and energy educators put into this work. If an institution truly values and prioritizes intercultural learning, it should not simply expect faculty (or staff) to do this work without proper training and support. Furthermore, institutions should not expect educators to invest significant time and energy in developing their intercultural competence and capacity for facilitating intercultural learning in addition to everything else they are already doing. Essentially, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.

Colleges and universities dedicated to building intercultural capacity should not only consider how they can support educators’ intercultural development, but also examine how they will compensate, reward, or at least recognize the time and effort that faculty or staff members invest in this work. This does not just mean offering monetary compensation. Again, you can look at institutional structures and systems for creative ideas. Offering faculty release time, connecting this work to tenure or promotion practices, or conferring special designations such as “Nelson Fellows” (see the Drake University case study) are a few ways institutions might encourage and support educators who commit to developing their capacity around intercultural teaching and learning.

Don’t limit intercultural training to faculty. Intercultural competence is relevant and needed both inside and outside the classroom. In addition to faculty, staff and administrators from all departments and levels can help foster inclusion on campus and support students’ intercultural learning. To do so effectively, faculty and staff need training focused on developing their own intercultural competence and helping them integrate intercultural learning into their work with students.

Connect intercultural work to wider institutional efforts. This is related to but expands upon the earlier suggestion to tie intercultural efforts to institutional structures and systems. This work should not be seen or approached as “one more thing.” It is related and connected to many other higher education goals and efforts. Intercultural competence involves developing the capacity to engage more effectively, appropriately, and authentically with people who differ from us. This is tied to and supports building inclusive, equitable communities where people experience a sense of belonging; it’s fundamental to leadership development; it helps build community on our campuses and beyond; and so much more. This is highlighted in the case studies I’ve discussed where faculty mention how focusing on their own intercultural development has made them better teachers and leaders, and helped build community and support faculty/staff retention. In short, developing intercultural competence among faculty, staff, and students is essential to institutional excellence.

Recognize and embrace the fact that building intercultural capacity takes time and is worth the effort. As Professor Jimmy Senteza of Drake University said, be patient and consistent. I’d also add, though, that as we saw in both case studies, investing in even one educator’s intercultural development can lead to significant ripple effects. So get started, keep going, learn and iterate, and celebrate the wins—big and small—along the way. Because building intercultural capacity is not a sprint. It’s not even a marathon. It’s a daily practice, a way of being—both for individual educators and institutions.

Share Your Thoughts!

What have you found useful from this series about engaging faculty in building intercultural competence? What are you doing at your institution? Please comment below!

If you’d like to learn more about how True North Intercultural can help build intercultural capacity at your higher education institution, click here to schedule a free strategy call.


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