By Lucas Johnson
NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — Students attending a recent event sponsored by Tennessee State University’s Office of International Affairs were encouraged to be “curious of cultures other than your own.”
The event, “Where I Come From,” was held Nov. 5 and wrapped up the university’s International Education Week. A mix of students, faculty and staff were in attendance to hear a panel discussion on how to engage international and domestic students on the campus.
The panelists included James R. Threalkill, regional director for diversity and inclusion for construction management firm, Skanska USA; Marcela Gomez, president and founder of Marcella Gomez & Associates and the Hispanic Marketing Group; and Kasar Abdulla, a social justice educator, advocate and TSU alumna.
Even though the panel discussion took place a few days before the Nov. 8 presidential election, its topic of inclusion was quite timely, considering the increased division across the country following the election.
“Certainly the decisions made in the White House will affect your house,” said panelist Abdulla, a Kurdistan native who fled her home at the age of 6 due to the Iraq invasion. “The world is connected, and to seek to understand you have to seek knowledge and wisdom and apply that to a global perspective. TSU’s Office of International Affairs is making that knowledge available to you.”
Gomez, a native of Colombia, South America, has lived in Nashville for 22 years. She said it is important for students to take advantage of every opportunity to learn from diverse people.
“I was always a C-student and would sit and write notes to friends instead of paying attention,” she said. “I realized I missed many opportunities to do something greater in my life. African-Americans, Latinos, and Kurdish communities have unique struggles. We need you (students) to be leaders, make change and reach out to a global community.”
James Threalkill, an Emmy Award-winning artist and long-time diversity champion, said we must rekindle a thirst and curiosity for knowledge and education.
“It is important to be culturally and intellectually curious of cultures other than your own,” Threalkill said. “There’s a struggle for inclusion in this country right now.”
Abdulla said people shouldn’t be afraid to embrace their cultures, even if they’re criticized for their beliefs.
“I am visibly Muslim,” Abdulla said. “Some choose not to, but I refuse to fall into that fear. After 9/11 many of my friends wanted me to take it off (head covering) because they thought someone might try to hurt me, but I refuse to play into the fear and negative vibes of the uneducated. You can’t tell black people to stop being black just because there’s racism in this country.”
International Education Week is an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. It is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education designed to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and to attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences in the United States.
“The world is bigger than the United States,” Gomez said. “The world is bigger than where we are.”
To learn more about the Office of International Affairs, visit http://www.tnstate.edu/