Re-examining the "How" of Intercultural Education at the time of Tragedies


If you've been watching the news, perhaps you've learned that earlier this week, a student at Ohio State attacked a group of people with a knife, injuring a number of people. Such a terrible, sad incident.

It is being reported now that the attacker, Abdul Artan, was taking a class called "Crossing Identity Boundaries" and working at the time of the attack on a group project on Microaggressions. In's story on the matter, they state that "the purpose of the class is to promote 'intercultural leadership'".

We don't know for sure that this student's violent act was in any way affected by the course and the microaggression assignment. It could be because of another problem the student had. However, there is something that needs to be said in response. To be clear, we're not specifically saying this for this incident. What we're writing is our thoughts, provoked by this incident.

Intercultural leadership education is not simple. There are two parts -- the WHAT - the content - and the HOW - the delivery. The HOW of this type of education is complex and needs to be done in a developmental way. From an intercultural development standpoint, individuals who are early in their development (i.e. having a more monocultural mindset) need an intentional approach to developing their intercultural competence and leadership -- an approach that specifically addresses their learning needs. The specific learning needs for those early in intercultural development is not to highlight differences, and definitely not to highlight sensitive differences like those that can be found while investigating microagressions. Instead, what they need is a learning approach that helps them develop into the next phase of intercultural development, a mindset where you learn to continue to identify difference but intentionally focus on discovering commonality among people (and just in case you're wondering, that's not the endpoint of development or the ultimate goal).

Often times, educators (a category in which we include ourselves), design education curriculum out of the best intentions, based on where they are in the process of intercultural development. When you are educating youth or young adults, there is a good possibility that they are in the earlier stages of the intercultural development process. If the curriculum is not developmentally appropriate, learners may not receive the intended educational message from teachers, and as a result, may be negatively affected, and have negative emotions and reactions.

In the end, what is clear is that not only is the WHAT of intercultural leadership needed, but equally needed is the HOW. We must design developmentally appropriate educational experiences to match the needs of the learners at the learner's level of readiness. When the HOW matches the learner's intercultural readiness, growth in the mindset of how a student sees the world can take place.