Intercultural Understanding is one of the nine strategic commitments that make up Place and Promise. UBC is one of the most diverse and multicultural campuses in North America. As a campus where approximately 79% of the student population already speaks two or more languages, and one out of three speak Mandarin or Cantonese, optimal student learning is not possible if educators do not possess intercultural skills or are not equipped to facilitate intercultural relationship and learning in the multicultural classroom environment. Intercultural understanding was conceptualized as a lifestyle change that also tied together all of Place and Promise as contributing towards “global citizenship and a civil and sustainable society.”
The current strategic plan was designed in three groupings of three commitments. The first being the core requirements of all great universities: Student Learning, Research Excellence and Community Engagement. The second described the operational excellence needed to achieve the core requirements: Outstanding Work Environment, Alumni Engagement and International Engagement. The third grouping described aspirations for excellence and leadership in three areas that stand out as UBC’s unique value proposition: Aboriginal Engagement, Sustainability and Intercultural Understanding. Intercultural Understanding was developed last, and positioned as a core concept that ran through and optimized all preceding commitments.
Culture Shift Towards Intercultural Classrooms and Campuses
In 2009 Professor Stephen Toope authored a paper entitled, Promoting Intercultural Understanding, which was circulated internally through various levels of leadership. In 2010 Professor Toope appointed Alden E. Habacon as Director Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development, to lead the University’s commitment to intercultural understanding. The first two years were engaged in a needs assessment and the development of, The Intercultural Promise, UBC’s mid-level strategic plan around intercultural understanding. In that capacity Habacon reported to Provost and VP Academic David Farrar, with a dotted-line to Professor Toope.
In July of 2014, the position was relocated to the Equity and Inclusion Office, where Habacon continued to implement the plan, provide leadership and coordinate efforts on both campuses, with close connection to the Provost Offices on both campuses. This role worked across both campuses, across all administrative and academic units, and with all constituencies—from students and faculty, to Academic Heads and Directors, the executive and the Deans. Habacon was also founding Chair of the Asian Canadian Community Engagement Initiative and the founding member of the University Social Sustainability Working Group.
There remains a strong sense of momentum and genuine desire amongst faculty and staff on both campuses to foster a more intercultural experience for both students and colleagues. At present, Habacon holds the role of Senior Advisor, Intercultural Understanding and works directly with 14 units across the Vancouver campus, including Vantage, the English Language Institute, UBC Residence, Sauder School of Business (Career Centre, Masters of Management Program, MBA Program), Continuing Studies Future Global Leaders Program, the Peter A. Allard School of Law, the Graduate School of Journalism and the VP International Office. The desire is to drill deeper into the faculties, such as curricular development, and training for Heads within the Faculty of Arts, but have been restricted due to budget constraints.