One of the biggest advantages of participating in the CMWR (Collaborative for Multilingual Writing and Research) is the frequent exposure to the unique experiences and perspectives of international students studying in America. We participate in Global DePaul’s Coffee Hour—a social event in which multicultural departments facilitate round robin discussions that international students take part in voluntarily. Coffee Hour always has a great turnout and relaxed environment, so international students feel comfortable having personal and informal conversation.
A Recurring Classroom Conflict
The most recent Coffee hour CMWR attended was centered around the theme “conflicts.” Katelyn P. and I came up with an agenda for our round robin discussion, choosing to focus on classroom conflicts since group work can be a huge pain sometimes. I went into the event thinking most conversations would be about poor communication and the reluctance everyone has for forced collaboration. We started each session by having each participant introduce themselves and share their worst or best experience with group work. While listening to participants’ stories about their experiences with group work as international students in America, I started noticing a disturbing theme.
Several of the students expressed frequent exclusion from their American group partners. One international student at my table shared a story in which he was completely ignored in a group assignment, only to find out the work had been completed and turned in without his input.
It became clear to me after hearing these perspectives that American students have an inherent bias when it comes to collaborating and interacting with international students. Preconceived notions about certain cultures mixed with laziness toward interactions with non-native English speakers creates a noninclusive environment. Prejudice leads to this kind of dynamic, significant in American student populations due to how little we tend to intermingle with students from other countries. Rather than taking advantage of the diverse ideas that come from working with peers from a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, we tend to shut these diverse voices out because they are spoken with an accent.
Actions Over Words
Hearing about the disregard of international students surprised me, but also made me hyperaware of my own behavior. I wondered if I had unintentionally excluded an international classmate in the past as well. I then wondered how many of the students that had excluded the students at Coffee Hour had done so intentionally. As a reputably inclusive school, it’s very possible that students at DePaul don’t know they are behaving with a bias. I wondered if a focus on discussing inclusion rather than actually acting on it had become the norm, counterintuitive to our intentions.
While American students, specifically at DePaul, pride themselves on being inclusive, the behavior doesn’t always hold up when it comes to how they interact (or don’t) with their international peers.
What can be Done?
After Coffee Hour had ended, many students stuck around for casual conversation after. I noticed then that although this was an open event to all students, the large majority of participants that were not international were facilitating tables or working the event. I also considered how few of our CMWR events ever receive American participants. A line seems to divide international and American students that makes exposure and collaboration rare. The effort to bring international and American students together does not seem to be working, and it seems to be causing obstacles for international students in the classroom.
As someone who works to expose international students to American people and cultures, I wonder what can be done to bring these two communities together and truly make DePaul the inclusive campus it promises.