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Classroom no place to learn about cultural differences

Illustration by Holly Randall
By Laura Keslar
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
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Remember when you were still in high school and you never had to study and your homework could be done the night before it was due without any real consequences?

Or how, when you were packing up your belongings as you eagerly counted off the days before you left for the residence halls of the University of Arizona, everyone suggested that college was not like high school - that you actually had to study there?

And for the first month into the semester you thought they were bluffing, blowing through your Gen Eds, enjoying the limitless high-speed Internet and the wonders of all-nighters. But after your first below-average grade on the first test of your college career, you realized that college really is different than high school.

College is, by far, more challenging than high school, and the goals of both differ tremendously as well. While high school's main purpose is to equip its students with the skills necessary to perform at a collegiate level, college prepares students for the real world - vocationally, intellectually and socially.

Laura Keslar

The University of Arizona's mission focuses on producing individuals who are well-rounded and knowledgeable in many diverse fields, ultimately turning them into Renaissance men.

Partly because of its role as a land-grant college, this purpose includes providing a quality liberal arts education necessary for a competitive position in the real world.

While the mission of the university has remained the same, its methods of pursuing and achieving those goals have changed. No longer does a liberal arts education mean the main focus of your degree is western civilization.

Now, it includes at least one course in "gender, race, class, ethnicity, or non-western" studies, partially because employers are looking for employees who can relate well in a diverse work force.

But classroom education can only go so far. There comes a point when studying cultures in the classroom becomes akin to studying a culture of bacteria under the microscope - something quite removed.

We saw how last week the University of Arizona kicked off its UAdiscusses Diversity event, beginning with Residence Hall Association's Writing on the Wall project; both events were hoping to encourage students to look retrospectively at themselves, their peers, and their behavior. And, at least in respect to the RHA project, the lesson was removed from the sterile classroom and placed into the real world.

As the university continually adjusts the role it plays in the eventual graduation of the student, it would behoove the UA to give its students something more than just the ability to write papers on the biases of language.

Instead, giving students real skills to use in light of America's changing demographics will be essential to ensuring the future success of both the university and the student.

The best way to foster these skills and abilities is to place a heavier emphasis on the foreign language requirement and research opportunities available on campus.

If I have learned anything from my Gen Eds, it is that language manipulates the way a person thinks.

With this being the case, why the university cuts off the language requirement at only two semesters for students trying to achieve their B.S. is beyond me.

Not only that, but if it is good enough for students receiving a B.A. to have four semesters of a foreign language, it should be equally good for students who are entering a world that has progressively incorporated foreign language speakers into its folds to learn a language other than English.

Similarly, placing a greater emphasis on participation in independent studies and research opportunities would provide students the opportunity to exhibit their cultural awareness on a day-to-day basis.

After all, as a fellow classmate remarked, it was while working in his research lab that he became acquainted with several people from non-western cultures.

Equipping students with the skills necessary to succeed is the University of Arizona's responsibility as a land-grant college, and these skills include preparing students for a world filled with people of different backgrounds.

It is only through adopting a more hands-on approach that the university will fulfill its mission.

Therefore, if the University wants its students to know more about different cultures than how to simply say "Una cerveza más, por favor," incentives to take foreign languages and participate in research opportunities would be a step up.

Laura Keslar is a pre-pharmacy junior. She can be reached at

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