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Building Inclusive Campus Community by Bridging Worldview Differences: Critical Conversations #9

August 2, 2017 Alyssa N. Rockenbach

JCC's Focus Author for this quarter is Alyssa N. Rockenbach, North Carolina State University at Raleigh. Her article is "Building Inclusive Community by Bridging Worldview Differences: A Call to Action From the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS)"

August 2017, Vol. 18, No. 3 (published online with free access) 

Below, she responds to questions posed by JCC co-editor Jon Dalton:

What are the attitudes and knowledge that first-year students have of people who come from worldviews other than their own?

Entering college students’ attitudes toward and knowledge of people of other worldviews depend on the worldview in question. For instance, with respect to attitudes, more than 60% of students have high scores on positive attitudes toward Buddhists, but only 42% report similarly favorable attitudes toward LDS/Mormons. Moreover, even attitudes toward the most well-regarded groups need improvement—and the college years may provide opportunities for engagement to enhance interworldview knowledge and positive attitudes.

What are some practical educational strategies for reducing prejudice and promoting cooperation and equal status among diverse campus groups?

Prejudice reduction rests in large part on productive contact. Students need to personally know people of other worldviews to begin dismantling their preconceptions and stereotypes. Educational strategies that encourage students to share and hear the stories and experiences of others are paramount. Such opportunities for informal dialogue can be incorporated into both classroom discussions and activities as well as co-curricular programming facilitated by student affairs educators. Importantly, though, these conversations should unfold within a context where students exercise mutual respect (especially because overtly negative interactions can increase prejudice) and where institutional norms support productive interworldview exchange and provide equitable resources to different groups (per Allport’s Contact Hypothesis).

What are some of the commonalities among students with different worldviews that can foster a greater sense of unity and community?

Many worldviews, whether religious or nonreligious, share similar values around justice, concern for the common good, and compassion toward others. Encouraging students to consider ways of working together on behalf of these values—whether through service activities, activism, or student-led initiatives on campus—may inspire among them a sense of unity and community.

Can our spirituality bring us together and be a pathway toward common ground?

If we think of spirituality broadly—as related to the prevailing existential questions of life, our search for meaning and purpose, or simply the inner and often subjective dimensions of the human experience—we may be able to find common ground because most people have at one point or another pondered their own existence and marveled at the world around them. Spiritual reflections and questions are markers of our humanity and we tend to appreciate and understand evidence of these markers in others.

Is worldview a better term for us to use when referring to students’ religious, spiritual and other ideological differences?

The IDEALS team has been using the term worldview for a number of years because we found the language of religion, faith, and even spirituality somewhat limiting. Because a quarter or more of college students today are not religiously affiliated, inclusive terminology is necessary so that students are able to articulate their perspectives regardless of whether they resonate with religious or spiritual narratives.

How can we help our students close the gap between values and action especially with respect to groups that do not share their worldview?

Opportunity is critical. If students do not have a clear path to enacting their values, these gaps will persist. Opportunity is more than merely inviting students to participate in activities that reflect their values. To provide the fullest opportunity to the most students, these activities must be embedded in the curricular, co-curricular, and informal spaces where students are already deeply engaged—and participation should be expected of members of the campus community as a reflection of stated institutional values and mission.

Please respond below to Alyssa's replies to these questions with your comments relating to bridging worldview differences.