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UI launches program for cultural competency

BY KENDALL McCABE | FEBRUARY 10, 2011 7:10 AM

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A relaunched series at the University of Iowa aims to enrich faculty members with one concept: cultural competency.

The Staff Language and Culture Services will restart “Accents In the Workplace and Education” this semester, said director Jane Gressang.

The voluntary program aims to inform UI faculty members about adjusting to an environment in which there are non-native English speakers and cultural differences.

Judie Hermsen, the senior administrative director of UI Human Resources, said it increases knowledge of other cultures.

“[The program] expresses our interest in maintaining and attracting diversity to the university … and developing our current employees,” she said.

The series last ran in the spring of 2010, and around 30 faculty members attended each of the three sessions.

UI Ombudsperson Cynthia Joyce said cultural differences in the workplace, specifically differences in direct and indirect communication, can contribute to problems.

“I think that when you have people coming from different backgrounds, with different ideas about the workplace, and different expectations for how you treat one another, problems can arise,” she said.

Brenda Behling, an assistant to the provost at Iowa State University, said the school doesn’t have a program similar to the UI’s Staff Language and Culture Services.

The closest offering ISU has is its Preparing Future Faculty service, which assists graduate students in their second year of a master’s degree or postdoctoral appointment in increasing their English-language ability, Behling said.

At the UI, the cultural services program communicates with other areas of the university as well.

The Office of the Ombudsperson, which provides informal conflict resolution, has overlapped with Staff Language and Culture Services and worked on conflicts arising from cultural differences.

“I think very highly of their services,” Joyce said.

But the Ombudsperson Office has not had to use its translating services at all in recent years, because most people bring a friend they trust to act as a translator, Joyce said.

Zadok Nampala, a UI graduate who works at the UI Hospitals and Clinics as an interpreter in six languages, worked for the program when it ran in 2009.

He said conflict resolution is the most important part of the what the program offers.

Nampala, who is originally from Kenya, said he wishes Staff Language and Culture Services would get more notice in the Iowa City area.

“It doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves,” Nampala said. “It’s really important to have an organization within an organization that deals with cultural competency and helping people become aware of people from other cultures and the way they do their things.”


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