Using Cultural Intelligence to Create Inclusive, Equitable, and Anti-Racist Learning Environments

EF College Study is committed to partnering with educators to produce global-ready graduates. As a professor and international education administrator, and more recently as Vice President of Academic Affairs at EF, developing cultural intelligence and awareness both in and outside the classroom has always been central to my work. We at EF recognize that in order to be successful in today’s global economy, our learners need to develop the skills and competencies to relate and work across cultural differences at home and abroad. This was the driving force behind building a partnership with the Cultural Intelligence Center.

Our collaboration with the Cultural Intelligence Center has provided a critical framework for developing and assessing cultural intelligence for all of our learners in partnership with our faculty and university partnerships across the globe. Developing cultural intelligence, the capability (or skill) to function effectively in multicultural situations, helps us increase awareness of, and manage, our biases and can also drive inclusive and equitable learning environments.

EF College Study’s Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Marissa Lombardi, recently sat down with the Vice President of Educational Initiatives at the Cultural Intelligence Center, Dr. Sandra Upton, to discuss developing cultural intelligence in teaching and learning, the importance of creating inclusive and equitable learning environments, and the heightened need to use cultural intelligence to drive anti-racism in our current higher education system. Learn more about their conversation below.

Marissa Lombardi [ML]: What are some ways in which cultural biases can surface in online teaching environments? And what can we as educators do about it?

Sandra Upton [SU]: Cultural biases, both explicit and unconscious, can show up in many ways. Similar to a face-to-face modality, a faculty member has the potential to teach “from” their own cultural values and lens versus teaching “to” the diversity of students in their virtual classroom. This can be reflected in course content, materials and assignments to how online classroom discussions are facilitated.

The key is for faculty to develop a deep understanding of the diversity and cultural values of their students and adapt their teaching style accordingly. For example, if a faculty has students from a high power distance culture (high value placed on position or authority) they may be less apt to speak up or challenge the Professor. In these situations, the faculty may need to identify less threatening ways for these students to share their perspectives or concerns.   

ML: How can we develop a greater awareness of our own unconscious biases? Why is this important in how we develop and teach our educational programs?

SU: The way we increase awareness of our biases and manage them is through developing our cultural intelligence (CQ), the capability (or skill) to function effectively in multicultural situations. We all have biases. The key is to manage the negative ones by not allowing them to make their way into our decisions and behaviors. The only way to do that is to identify and practice culturally intelligent strategies for managing them. One strategy is to complete the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a tool created by a team of researchers. This free tool helps individuals identify potential biases they might have towards other cultural groups. Let’s say you learn that you are biased against individuals from a certain religious group. Having this information allows you to reflect on where this bias may have come from. More importantly, when you encounter someone from this cultural group you can make a conscious decision to replace any negative thoughts with a positive behavior or action towards that person and enhance that cross-cultural interaction. That is CQ and it is one of the most critical skills necessary for effectiveness in the multicultural and global work environment.

ML: How can building cultural intelligence drive inclusive and equitable learning environments?

SU: Research shows that not only does CQ predict our effectiveness during cross-cultural experiences, it is tied to a number of other performance outcomes, including creating inclusive environments. An individual with high CQ is able to develop an understanding of the diversity represented in a certain environment and also develop a strategy for how to leverage the diversity of the group and create equitable experiences for everyone.

ML: How can we build cultural intelligence as part of larger internationalization initiatives while mobility is reduced or restricted?

SU: Studying abroad is one of the best ways to increase a student’s CQ. However, it, by no means, is the only way. Providing students with cross-cultural and service-learning experiences within their own countries can be just as powerful of a strategy for building students’ CQ. The common theme is developing high-impact and quality intervention strategies and reflection opportunities after the experience.

ML: Tell us about the importance of developing cultural intelligence as a part of driving anti-racism in our learning communities.

SU: The CQ Framework can be a powerful solution for addressing racism and creating anti-racist communities and organizations. It is a multi-layered process that requires deep commitment and a strong focus on dismantling systemic racism. It needs to be led by the dominant (white) culture, not by black and brown individuals and communities. To learn more about the relationship between CQ and anti-racism, check out another blog I recently wrote on how to create an anti-racist organization here.

ML: How might you recommend faculty use the resource “Culturally Intelligent Online Teaching Strategies”?

SU: The “Culturally Intelligent Online Teaching Strategies” resource is a great “cheat sheet” with practical strategies that can be used by any faculty teaching an online course. Many of the strategies are simple to implement and combined they can create a transformative and inclusive experience in the online classroom.

For more information on resources to develop Cultural Intelligence and intercultural competence, including our Global Learning Toolkit, get in touch with us here.

To hear more from Marissa and Sandra, watch an on-demand recording of an interactive Zoom Chat where Marissa and Sandra were joined by Dr. Darla Deardorff, Research Fellow, Duke University and the Association of International Education Administrators, to continue the conversation. Together, this panel of expert facilitators discussed strategies for building an anti-racist curriculum and ways educators can improve their students’ cultural intelligence and competencies during and post-pandemic.