How All Administrators Can Promote Student Exchanges Across Deep Differences
By Eleanor Chappell
Eleanor Chappell is an Undergraduate Student studying education at East Carolina University and a Research Intern with IDEALS at North Carolina State University with hopes of pursuing a future career in higher education.
As a current college senior, I just barely made the cutoff to be classified as a Gen Zer rather than a Millennial. Some think of Gen Zers as the kids with an unhealthy reliance on technology, short attention span, and fear of face-to-face conversations.
Regardless of whether or not those stereotypes are true, Gen Zers are growing up in a time where the influx of readily available information has led to a greater curiosity about the world around us. We came to college to better prepare ourselves for the “real world.” Sure, the main focus of these four years is to leave with a degree and quickly secure a promising job…but don’t we also need to prepare for the “real world” by learning how to communicate with others, understand differences, and learn from varying perspectives?
I was fortunate to attend a diverse high school that introduced me to individuals from all walks of life. However, once I got to college, I witnessed the interactions of others who never learned how to respect and embrace those with different views from their own. I thought to myself, why do diverse perspectives have to lead to conflict? Why can’t they be discussed and learned from?
I thought to myself, why do diverse perspectives have to lead to conflict? Why can’t they be discussed and learned from?
Three years later, I am now an undergraduate Research Intern with the IDEALS team. IDEALS just released a brand new national report entitled Friendships Matter: The Role of Peer Relationships in Interfaith Learning and Development (2019), which emphasizes how interfaith friendships across lines of difference can impact students’ learning and development.
After reading the report, I now wonder if my campus adequately encouraged us to seek out those friendships through programmatic experiences. I wonder if the administrators at my institution recognize the importance of setting an expectation for building relationships across worldview differences.
I wonder if the administrators at my institution recognize the importance of setting an expectation for building relationships across worldview differences.
The conclusion of Friendships Matter mentions three steps college faculty, staff, and administrators can take to encourage these relationships.
The first step is to create the conditions for interworldview friendships (friendships across diverse worldviews) to thrive.
As students, we are eager to get involved and feel a part of something larger. We are looking for opportunities to meet new people, so administrators should take advantage of that and create programmatic experiences that focus on building connections with others of varying worldviews. This might include shared meals where students can discuss their diverse views on certain topics, residence life programming where students can learn about other’s perspectives or the creation of an interfaith student organization available for students on campus.
The next step is to set the expectation.
Gen Zers came to college excited to grow and develop ourselves as members of society. Talk to us about how interworldview relationships can positively impact our understanding of the world. Explain how this will help us as future leaders in our fields.
The last step is to model the practice.
Show us how you are making an effort to increase your interworldview friendships through professional and social activities. Be open and honest with students about how these experiences have impacted your perspective of the world.
I feel confident that interworldview friendships can help foster a positive campus environment for the future. If we are able to practice discussions of varying perspectives with students of other worldviews on campus, we will carry those communication skills over to different situations that arise.
These friendships teach us to acknowledge that if we don’t agree with each other on certain ideas we can still discuss and learn from each other’s reasoning respectfully.
As students, we are here. We are ready to grow and develop as communicators. We just need your support and guidance.
IDEALS is a national study of college students’ experiences with worldview diversity spanning 122 institutions. The study is conducted by research teams at NC State University, Ohio State University, and Interfaith Youth Core and is led by Drs. Alyssa Rockenbach and Matthew Mayhew. For more information about IDEALS, please visit our website or follow us on Twitter.