Global Community Conversations: Exploring approaches to intercultural community-building at Leeds
Jenna Isherwood (International Student Office)
Students and staff at the University of Leeds come from diverse backgrounds, cultures and life experiences. For students, fostering connections with people from different backgrounds can have many benefits for mutual learning, wellbeing, personal development, and building an overall sense of belonging. However, some students report experiencing divisions or ‘bubbles’ within student communities that make it difficult to foster the kind of social connections they hope for.
Our University Strategy includes aspirations to “deliver an inclusive and intercultural student experience focussed on whole cohort integration, belonging and community-building.” A range of social and co-curricular activities support these aims, offering all students opportunities to step out of comfort zones, interact with people from different backgrounds, find connections, discuss differences, and reflect and act on what they’ve learned. Some activities are specifically described as “global” or “intercultural”, while others may support intercultural community-building without this being their primary stated aim. However, many people may also be unaware of opportunities or activities available, or the benefits of getting involved.
So, this project aimed to gain a better understanding of different students’ experiences of feeling (or not feeling) part of an intercultural community at Leeds, in order to:
- improve the design and delivery of social and co-curricular activities that support (intercultural) community-building;
- improve university communications, to support enhanced awareness and engagement with relevant activities, and inspire a wider ethos of intercultural curiosity.
- Need to more pro-actively facilitate mixing, connecting and sharing across boundaries at events and activities, and within existing groups/networks. Participants shared a vision for "a space where we can be all aspects of ourselves and connect with others".
- Need to recognise the varying impact of using terms like 'global' or 'intercultural' on different people's expectations and engagement. Such terms may feel inviting or inclusive to some, but alienating or confusing to others.
- Need to raise awareness of opportunities and their benefits by sharing authentic stories about people's experiences, while being cautious about the potential for terms like ‘global community’ or ‘intercultural’ to be perceived as ‘buzzwords’.
- As well as individual motivation, a range of institutional support is needed to build a strong and genuine sense of intercultural community.
- Need to involve wider circles of students and staff in ongoing conversations – this process can be an intercultural and community-building experience in itself, and the story circle methodology provides a good model for this.
Implications for practice
- Report includes a variety of suggestions to help activity providers test different approaches/tools for facilitating general mixing, as well as deeper sharing and reflection.
- Report includes perspectives and suggestions to consider when promoting events and activities, and when communicating about student experience more generally.
- Key themes and issues identified in the report highlight the institutional support needed to “deliver an inclusive and intercultural student experience focussed on whole cohort integration, belonging and community-building”, and could help inform action plans.
- The story circle methodology used in the project was very well received by participants and could have many potential applications for student/staff engagement and community-building, as well as research. Find out more about the story circles case study and toolkit from this research.
If you want to find out more details about this fellowship or what the next steps were upon completion please read the full snapshot (PDF) or contact the Global Community Team (firstname.lastname@example.org) as Jenna Isherwood is on maternity leave from 27 March 2023. There are also long form (35 mins) and short form (5mins) video summaries available to University of Leeds staff and students on MS Stream.
Project start date: January 2022