BRIDGING CULTURES AT COMMUNITY COLLEGES
Hopkinsville Community College
In 1997 Kentucky legislators formed the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) combining community colleges from the University of Kentucky system and technical schools from the secondary system. This legislation created a network of 16 community colleges and 70 campuses located throughout Kentucky. Hopkinsville Community College (HCC) is part of this network. KCTCS serves 97,000 students, and awards nearly 28,000 credentials yearly. KCTCS has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to international education through a partnership with the Kentucky Institute for International Education, study abroad opportunities, and a Global Studies and International Partnerships program.
HCC students are themselves a diverse group, with 26% of its population identified as African American; 4% Hispanic; 3% Asian; 1% Native American and 57% White. HCC has accordingly been part of KCTCS’ globalization initiatives since their inception. HCC has two campuses, one in Hopkinsville and one on post at Ft. Campbell offering classes to military members and their families. At Fort Campbell, globalization initiatives focus upon offering curriculum that help enlisted personnel and their families gain a better understanding of the cultures of those regions in which they serve. Another facet of the college’s commitment to diversity has involved a project to build ties between Hopkinsville and the Tibetan community of Dharamsala, India. As of this writing, HCC has sponsored two three-week service-learning trips to Dharamsala for groups of students and acuity, while the campus has also invited Tsering Phuntsok, a Buddhist monk of 25 years, has been invited to speak on the campus as well as sister colleges in KCTCS on Buddhist and Tibetan issues. HCC’s cooperative project with the Tibetan community of Dharamsala continues a regional tradition begun by Thomas Merton, a Kentucky monk, who initiated a 1968 exchange with the Dalai Lama; after Merton’s death, the initiative continued with events like the Gethsemani encounter and MID—Monastic Inter-faith Dialogue.
HCC’s Bridging Cultures proposal grew out of a commitment to develop curriculum in the Humanities that would support these intercultural ties. Faculty who had already played a critical role in the design of the service-learning travel course sought to further globalize curricular offerings by pairing a religion course with an introductory course in expository writing that already included a strong foundation in the humanities.
The Bridging Cultures project had several components. Faculty developed new modules for the two courses, and added a new course to the common catalogue for KCTCS. Since we are a small college and have only one full-time religion instructor, we decided to bridge cultures by drawing upon common topics in broad, international, human and religious issues. Although the original impetus of the plan was a focus upon India and Buddhism, we decided to incorporate Islam, as well, scheduling intercultural speaking events on campus that would cover Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim traditions. Eventually we developed a new course in comparative religions called Comparative Ethics of Religion, which can now be used across the KCTCS system. The topics addressed in this course could be paired with composition courses or humanities courses across KCTCS.
Ken Casey (the professor of religion) and Amanda Sauermann (professor of English literature and composition) linked Introduction to Religion and Writing II courses by using Humanities texts to explore the following common themes:
• Meaning of Life
• Poverty and Wealth Attainment
• Torture and Imprisonment
• Women and Society
• Marriage and Parenting
• Refugee and Immigration Status
• Theocracy and Democracy
Humanities resources (see list below) were selected by determining what type of writing fit within each course The composition texts consisted of position-based essays, films, and historic documents. The religion texts combined religious scripture with primary source documents.
We also engaged campus faculty and the wider community by sponsoring lectures relevant to module themes. Our project mentor, Dr. Emily Tai, spoke at both college campuses on the history of Islam. Tsering Phuntsok and Dr. Casey spoke on the topic of loving enemies, each focusing on his own religious tradition. Our speakers addressed classes at our campus and other community colleges. Phuntsok visited the religion class for two weeks and was available on campus for tea and conversation. Local press covered Phuntsok’s visit.
The results of the grant have led to several sea changes in the faculty and in the students. Amanda Sauermann noted that the new modules have invigorated her writing classes and stimulated active learning. For example, instead of asking students to write argumentative essays on traditional topics (i.e. capital punishment or guns), students in the composition course are now required to find one text on their own that relates to the module theme. Students then write summaries and explain how their chosen text relates to the theme. During the module on Poverty and Wealth, one student wrote about Peter Buffet’s book Life is What You Make It. The documentary, Queen of Versailles, was also added to the Poverty and Wealth module. These texts, in particular, generated lively discussions on American and global economic policy. In the religion classes, face-to-face interactions also bridged cultures. Hizreth Linares, a student in the religion class was so excited about the Buddhist monk that she invited him to speak at her alma mater, a local Catholic grade school.
HCC will continue to develop curriculum and relationships with a global perspective. Another trip to Dharamsala, hosted by Tsering Phuntsok, is planned for summer, 2014, as is another visit from Phuntsok in spring, 2014. Plans are also underway to bring a visitor from Egypt to discuss his perspective on Islamic/Christian relations in his country.
Other faculty within the Humanities division have been inspired by Bridging Cultures work to develop new courses to enhance understanding of other cultures. For example, a course entitled “Immigrant Literature” has been added to the humanities curriculum. The course explores a number of selected literary texts produced by writers who have immigrated to the United States from a broad range of countries.
Through the NEH/CCHA grant, a small college in rural Kentucky has utilized the humanities to “bridge cultures” in a way that has energized faculty, students and our community.
READING LIST OF PRIMARY SOURCES AND OTHER HUMANITIES TEXTS FOR STUDENTS
David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster
Atul Gawande, Letting Go
Dalai Lama, Christ and the Bodhisattva Ideal
Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva
Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God
Bernard of Clairvaux, “On the death of my brother Gerard” from Sermons on the Canticle
Martin Luther King, “Loving your enemies”.
M. K. Gandhi, “The Practice of Satyagraha” or Civil Disobedience
Sallie Tisdale –“ We Do Abortions Here: A Nurse’s Story”
Song of Solomon
Eleanor Roosevelt, On the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
Dalai Lama, “Human rights and Universal Responsibility”
READING LIST OF PRIMARY SOURCES AND OTHER HUMANITIES TEXTS FOR INSTRUCTORS
Stephen Carter, The Separation of Church and State
Mark Twain, Reflections on Religion (excerpts 1, 2, 3, 4, &5).
Dalai Lama, Compassion: Where the World’s Religions Come Together
Social Indicators of Marital Health & Well-Being, The National Marriage Project Website
Steven Pinker, The Moral Instinct
Dr. Jay Allen, President/CEO
Hopkinsville Community College
Hopkinsville, Kentucky 42241
Dr. Ken Casey, Professor of Philosophy/Religious Studies
Prof. Amanda Sauermann, Professor of English, Hopkinsville Community College
Dr. Kristin Wilson, Associate Professor, Educational Administration, Leadership, & Research, Western Kentucky University
Dr. Ken Casey, Professor Hopkinsville Community College
Dr. Emily S. Tai, Associate Professor of History
NEH/CCHA Bridging Cultures in Community Colleges Project Mentor
Queensborough Community College, CUNY