By teaching to the Communication learning outcomes, we hope to engage students in intentional communication with others who might not share their social identities.
Intercultural communication is the study and practice of communication across cultural contexts. It applies equally to domestic cultural differences such as ethnicity and gender and to international differences such as those associated with nationality or world region. Intercultural communication is an approach to relations among members of these groups that focuses on the recognition and respect of cultural differences, seeks the goal of mutual adaptation leading to biculturalism rather than simple assimilation, and supports the development of intercultural sensitivity on the part of individuals and organizations to enable empathic understanding and competent coordination of action across cultural differences.
Intercultural dialogue is critical to both the process and goal of social justice. Social injustice is rooted in systemic exclusion, silencing, and dehumanization of individuals and groups based on differences in race, ethnicity, gender, class, nationality, religion, language, and sexual orientation. In public discourse, social justice is often used as an ideal to which groups, institutions, and nationalities aspire and are held accountable. Thus, communicating and working effectively across lines of difference is central to the on-going process of achieving social justice.
In communicating concepts of social justice, we must focus on emphasizing how the historical construction of knowledge, structures, and dynamics of power affect social structure today. An important aspect of intentional communication is the use of inclusive language. Language is constantly evolving, and it is our job as educators to make sure that we are up-to-date with it. To learn more about the importance of language in an inclusive discussion, please see:
When we facilitate class discussion, it is imperative that we use intentional communication, which tends to be more explicit and deliberate, and address miscommunications when they happen. Intentional communication differentiates between intent and impact. Sometimes, we have the best intentions in mind, but the outcomes of our words are very different. In other words, the impact our words and expressions have on an audience can be radically different from the message we meant to get across. Sometimes when there is a noticeable gap between intent and impact, our initial reaction may be to pass the blame to our listeners. Instead, we can focus on figuring out what we could have done better – perhaps we didn’t provide enough background, lacked emotion, were disorganized, didn’t tell any compelling stories, or failed to look at things from their point of view.
Intent = What we hope our audience will think, feel, and do.
Impact = What they actually think, feel, and do.
There are an endless numbers of situations when communication is misinterpreted, misunderstood, or simply missed. Nobody wants things to turn out that way, but they often do. Bridging the gap between intent and impact is something we should continually work on in the relationships that matter to us most. When we communicate better, we feel more connected, get more done, build stronger relationships, and fight a whole lot less.
Another form of intentional communication highlights the differences between individual experiences and general statements. It is critical to draw a line between individual experience and communal experience to prevent alienating someone whose experience may be different. When a member of the community speaks of personal experience or feelings, it is of utmost importance that they use “I” statements instead of generalizing their experience to the entire group. As facilitators, we should encourage our students to take responsibility for their own experience rather than projecting it onto fellow students. By using existing resources and with a bit of creativity, we can incorporate elements of intercultural learning and intentional communication in our teaching. Below are some resources related to intercultural communication and to sensitive interactions in and out of the classroom:
First, you are invited to visit this open source about Facilitating Discussions about Intercultural Communication Issues and watch the video LinkedIn learning Video: Communicating about Culturally Sensitive Issues. Sometimes, starting a class discussion can be challenging, here are some ideas for discussion starters:
For more information, please read: Respect Differences? Challenging the Common Guidelines in Social Justice Education, by Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo.
Second, you are invited to use the concepts of social identities from an earlier chapter to facilitate intentional communication in the classroom. I recommend facilitating a discussion about social identity, privilege, and intersectionality to help students learn about how their different positions in society affect their experiences. You can also read about some of the cognitive and emotional challenges of social justice facilitation in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (2016), pages 42-45.
Other social justice aspects that are related to our identities and the social perceptions of them are categorization, stereotypes, and social stigmas. Thinking about others in terms of their group memberships is known as social categorization, the natural cognitive process by which we place individuals into social groups. Social categorization occurs spontaneously, without much thought on our part (Principles of Social Psychology1). When we categorize people into groups, we often use common social stereotypes. Stereotypes are oversimplified generalizations about groups of people. Stereotypes can be based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation—almost any characteristic. They may be positive (usually about one’s own group, such as when women suggest they are less likely to complain about physical pain) but are often negative (usually toward other groups, such as when members of a dominant racial group suggest that a subordinate racial group is stupid or lazy) (Introduction to Sociology2). You are invited to read more about this in: Categorization and Stereotyping.
In addition to discussing the process of categorization that we all use, it is helpful to explain microaggressions and to discuss “triggers”, which can be words, behaviors, experiences, or content, that for some students might trigger an emotional response due to past experiences and negative associations. Talking about potential triggers before “sensitive” discussions and addressing ways to respond to them can support inclusive communications in class. For more information, please see:
- Principles of Social Psychology by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
- Introduction to Sociology 2e. Authored by: OpenStax CNX.