Why "Intercultural"?

In 2016 Emerson's Multicultural Student Affairs and GLBTQ Student Services became Intercultural Student Affairs. This name change is both consistent with the evolution of the profession, and reflects a change in the department's approach to supporting and educating students.

In the summer of 2017 a group of students faculty and staff got together to discuss our thoughts on the meanings of intercultural and multicultural. The concepts that rose to the top that speak specifically to the department's purpose and intentions are: 

  • "Inter" means between or among, while "multi" implies many but separate 
  • Connection, interconnection, interrelationship 
  • Intersectionality of identity (race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, religion, gender-identity, sexual and romantic orientation, & more)
  • Especially inclusive of historically marginalized communities

Here are definitions of intercultural, multicultural, and cross-cultural communication that shed more light on our thinking.

Intercultural describes communities in which there is a deep understanding and respect for all cultures. Intercultural communication focuses on the mutual exchange of ideas and cultural norms and the development of deep relationships. In an intercultural society, no one is left unchanged because everyone learns from one another and grows together.

Multicultural refers to a society that contains several cultural or ethnic groups.  People live alongside one another, but each cultural group does not necessarily have engaging interactions with each other.  For example, in a multicultural neighborhood people may frequent ethnic grocery stores and restaurants without really interacting with their neighbors from other countries.

Cross-Cultural deals with the comparison of different cultures.  In cross-cultural communication, differences are understood and acknowledged, and can bring about individual change, but not collective transformations. In cross-cultural societies, one culture is often considered “the norm” and all other cultures are compared or contrasted to the dominant culture.