COLA Connections Newsletter: Spring 2018

Communicating Across Culture

Intercultural Communication, a class taught by School of Communication professor and Vice President and Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Keith Jenkins, is a popular course that explores how culture affects communication styles – an incredibly important topic in today’s multicultural society.  We spoke with Dr. Jenkins in depth about the course, its culminating "cultural dinner," and why he thinks it's important for all RIT students.

What is the importance of Intercultural Communication?

Intercultural communication is important because we live in a dynamic, rapidly evolving era. I think Samovar, Porter, McDaniel, and Roy explain it best in their book Communication Between Cultures: “There are dramatic alterations in technology, increased world travel, many new economic and political institutions, shifts in immigration patterns, growing demographic diversity, and greater population density. These changes have created a world that requires regular interaction with people of different cultural origins—be they next door, across town, or thousands of miles away. Whether or not you embrace these ‘conversations,’ they will continue to increase in frequency and intensity.”

What does the class cover?

The class begins with introductions, where students introduce themselves to others in the class through a four-minute presentation addressing seven key questions. This process allows us to discover things about each other that we probably would not otherwise know, beginning the process of establishing a safe and brave space to engage in conversations about sometimes difficult topics. In addition to exploring topics that range from discussions of culture, examinations of concepts of family, worldview, religious traditions, and cultural histories, we also examine how language, nonverbal communication, and context—business, education and healthcare—impact intercultural communication. Students also apply what they learn in class through cultural interviews during the semester. Our experience culminates with a cultural dinner near the end of the semester.

What is the cultural dinner?

The cultural dinner allows each participant to prepare and share a dish that represents an aspect of their culture. For example, I generally make deep-fried catfish which is representative of my southern, Arkansan background—a dish my family enjoyed most Fridays when I was growing up. Students, depending on how they chose to express themselves, make and share one dish that all can sample. We also share “why” we chose this dish as representative of our cultures. Most of all, we enjoy a wonderful time of food and communication with others.

How can students use this course in their everyday lives?

Whenever we interface with those who are different than ourselves, including within our own families, an intercultural encounter occurs. Understanding our own cultures while learning about others is a process we will engage in for the rest of our lives, always examining how to be the most effective we can in our communication across cultures.

What do you enjoy most about teaching this course?

I love the students, the classroom discussions, and the discovery of new ideas as we deal with difficult topics. I love the “freedom” of being open and honest in a safe and brave space, where our lives are impacted in our explorations of both ourselves and others.

Are there courses that I feel every student at RIT should benefit from? Absolutely. Indeed, intercultural communication is one of those courses.