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DePauw University Liberal Arts and Global Citizenship Conference: “A Portal to the World in Greencastle”

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DePauw University Liberal Arts and Global Citizenship Conference: “A Portal to the World in Greencastle”
by David Alvarez (English) reporting about a conference hosted at DePauw and made possible by funding from the GLCA Global Crossroads Grant, the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics, the English Department, Academic Affairs, and the World Literature program.

“Global citizenship” can seem a contradiction. If the “global” implies a universal, planetary viewpoint, we can only be citizens of a particular state. And yet who would deny that our local lives are influenced by such global forces as the internet, international trade, and climate change? In the twenty-first century, no one can escape globalization. Tackling these tensions, DePauw’s international conference on “The Liberal Arts and Global Citizenship: Theory and Practice” examined the currency of “global citizenship” for a liberal arts education. Over the course of the three days of panels and speakers, some surprising possibilities opened up.

Why the Liberal Arts and Global Citizenship?

Several participants noted that economic globalization does not automatically create citizens of the world. International trade and communication networks might provide the conditions for thinking and feeling beyond the nation-state, but how can this potential be realized? How can it be cultivated? In response to such questions, the conversation kept returning to the distinctive educational opportunities offered by small liberal arts colleges.

First of all, such institutions can excel at interdisciplinarity. No single academic discipline alone can grasp the global processes that are transforming our world. Global citizens need knowledge about the economic forces that shape and connect humanity, the history of globalization and colonialism, the efforts of artists and writers to represent the world, and the science behind the environmental challenges that confront us. As one student panelist explained, “The world is not strictly divided into biochemistry, English, and math compartments. It is all interconnected, and a liberal arts education prepares me for that.” Again and again, participants also pointed out that in-depth cross-cultural knowledge can only be gained by learning another language.

The most enthusiastic supporters of global learning at the conference were DePauw students. On a panel about “Global Learning and a Liberal Arts Education,” they spoke passionately about how transformative their study abroad experiences had been, and how on-campus international events organized by staff had engaged them with the perspectives of cultures outside of the U.S. The student panel particularly highlighted how a liberal arts education cultivated global citizenship by promoting a self-reflexive sensibility. This idea was taken up by many conference participants, who emphasized that global learning should “de-center” and “de-familiarize.” It was also pointed out that this self-reflexivity is crucially important for the concept of global citizenship itself, which has too easily and too often been equated with North Atlantic values.

The conference tried to gain an international perspective on international education by including speakers from liberal arts institutions in Lebanon, Nigeria, and India. These speakers’ expertise provided concrete suggestions about how to prepare students for studying abroad and integrate their international experiences into a liberal arts curriculum. One of our international visitors, Prof. Amy Zenger from the American University of Beirut, summed up the importance of self-reflexivity for the ideal of global citizenship by observing that the transformative power of an international experience can always be deepened by asking one key question: “What did it mean to the other person?”

Global Learning: Access and Networks

The last two panels of the conference raised important questions about privilege, access, service learning, and how and where global learning takes place at liberal arts institutions. Not every student can afford to study abroad, so how can all of our students participate in global learning? Prof. Eric Wetzel from Wabash College argued that international education should involve students in the local nexus of the global, for example, in the immigrant/refugee communities, business networks, and environmental issues that globalization affects in Putnam county.

Another key network would be the international students who live and study at DePauw. A student panelist remarked that we “breathe dialogue” on campus, and yet there was also recognition that more could be done to integrate international students into our learning community. (Data from the most recent campus climate survey indicate that the highest percentage of disrespect on campus is reported for non-native speakers of English (30%)). One panelist asked the audience to consider “why domestic students would find it glamorous and exciting to study abroad, and yet would not talk to a person sitting next to them in class who is from another country.” If one goal of global learning is to develop the ability to work with others from different cultures, we can foster that for each other here at DePauw.

By including panels of students, staff, and faculty members, the conference also sought to connect and reflect back to DePauw the scope of its global learning efforts. DePauw’s success in this regard, however, guaranteed that this goal of the conference could only be a failure. Global learning is happening not only off-campus but all across campus, and it wasn’t possible for the conference to represent fully the variety of DePauw’s international education activities. Yet it did provide a space for staff and faculty to come together in a cooperative spirit to share aspirations and explore our resources. Although DePauw’s bucolic location might seem off the grid, we are plugged into a distinctive international network of people and institutions that create unique opportunities for students to develop the ideals of global citizenship.

In short, the conference suggested that strengthening global learning at DePauw might mean investing more in interdisciplinary courses, in pedagogies and programming that cultivate self-reflexivity, and in the local connections—including our international students—that already link the university to the world at large. It will also mean connecting our students, both international and domestic, to their own off-campus experiences through the global framework of DePauw, one that is collaborative, exploratory, and aware. Trajectories to and from DePauw (and, after an off-campus experience, back again) themselves create global networks that shape and reshape our campus. Through this project and others, DePauw is also expanding its international connections with liberal arts faculties, creating exciting possibilities for the mutual exchange of ideas and practices. As Prof. Harry Brown (English) put it, DePauw offers “a portal to the world in Greencastle.”

This conference on “The Liberal Arts and Global Citizenship: Theory and Practice” is part of an ongoing year-long project responding to faculty members’ interest in developing the goals and practices of international education. The conference was made possible by funding from the GLCA Global Crossroads Grant, the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics, the English Department, Academic Affairs, and the World Literature program. To learn more about the conference speakers, click here. And please get in touch with Prof. Angela Flury (aflury@depauw.edu) if you have any questions and this project and/or the conference, or if you are interested in pursuing collaborative projects with any of the international participants.

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