UT Knoxville faculty, staff and students are constantly reminded-even barraged-about the University’s commitment to diversity and interculturalism. We hear about it under the umbrella of "Ready for the World" and are told of its broad reach into university life, affecting the way we recruit, admit, hire, teach and learn.
But, for many, questions remain. What do diversity and interculturalism have to do with each other? What have they to do with me?
We all know the future will be increasingly global with powerful forces of technology, environment and economics making the world smaller, flatter and more interdependent. The future also will be distinctly intercultural and multiracial at home and abroad.
Indeed, the future is already upon us. Therefore, we must act with urgency and purpose to create intercultural awareness and understanding, to build intercultural competencies, and to develop leaders for that new world.
This is especially important at a homogenous institution like UT. Eighty-five percent of our students are from Tennessee. Only 17 percent of our student body is racially or ethnically diverse.
Because we hear so much about globalization in the economy and geopolitics, it is easier for many of us to grasp the importance of increasing our international awareness. However, it is myopic to not see that it is our intercultural awareness and skills that will allow us to live peacefully and productively, addressing critical issues of our time with diverse people in our neighborhoods and around our shrinking globe.
Simply put, interculturalism, which is an equal pillar of Ready for the World, teaches us to see the world from a myriad of perspectives, not just through the prism of our own experience. It is the interaction with people from diverse cultures, backgrounds and beliefs that provides the greatest capacity to succeed in an intercultural world.
Diversity is at the heart of Ready for the World. The initiative recognizes that UT, Tennessee and the nation cannot reach their competitive potentials in the global economy until and unless they harness the productivity and creativity of America’s diverse population through education. This is especially important for those populations that have suffered the historical legacy of racial discrimination and who have been denied access and opportunity by socioeconomic circumstances. We cannot be credible leaders in a world of emerging nonwhite people and nonwestern cultures if those people and cultures face disparities, bias and marginalization in our midst.
Moreover, a diverse educational environment with a curriculum infused with intercultural perspectives and content will, among other things, increase critical and comparative thinking skills and build confidence in working with and learning from individuals and circumstances that are unfamiliar. This, in turn, will make UT a stronger competitor with the nation’s best universities for students, faculty and research.
Diversity and interculturalism are mutual, synergistic goals. The absence of one will limit and diminish the other while their joint pursuit will yield the greatest educational and societal benefits.