March 11, 2009
Diversity grows as TC3 broadens its reach
Dryden campus adjusts as the college’s student body now comes from 24 nations
DRYDEN — Justin Friends found a chance Wednesday to understand the Middle East’s complexities, through fellow Tompkins Cortland Community College students.
Mohammed Mostafa, 30, from Egypt, and Lama Rifai, 18, from Lebanon, had just taken part in a discussion in the Student Center about a part of the world that Americans do not, in their opinion, understand.
Friends, 23, who is from Trumansburg and is vice president of the student government, wanted to hear more about what lay behind the decades of strife between Israel and Palestinians over Gaza. Alternating between English and Arabic, which they spoke to each other, Mostafa and Rifai tried to tell him.
This moment on a sunny afternoon was just one example of how TC3, at its 40-year anniversary, has grown far beyond a little college aimed at Tompkins and Cortland counties’ residents.
The student body comes from 24 nations, due in large part to the college’s global initiatives programs.
The age range among students remains broad, as about 400 of the 3,000 students are over 40 and about 100 are over 50. Many are changing careers or starting a college degree for the first time.
The five residence halls that the college built in recent years have put international and upstate New York students of all ages together.
College officials say the campus has adjusted well to so many kinds of students coming together, yet TC3 continues to keep its community in tune with the different perspectives that students, faculty and staff bring to learning and working together.
Last month, TC3 set aside a half-day for diversity workshops aimed at faculty and staff. About 120 faculty and staff attended, along with a few students.
“The real value of diversity is what it can bring to the table,” said Khaki Wunderlich, dean of organizational success and learning. “It allows us as a community to be better problem solvers.”
“It’s a different kind of learning that provides multiple lenses,” said Seth Thompson, director of multicultural services.
The half-day workshop, led by Philadelphia-based National Coalition Building Institute, was voluntary. Wunderlich said several people continued through the day and into the weekend, to be trained in how to lead such workshops.
“We’ve grown a lot in the last 10 years, and we thought this would be valuable,” said Jim Hull, dean of student life. “We’re always looking for ways to add to everyone’s understanding of each other.”
Carolyn Boone, campus coordinator of access and equity services, works with all students with disabilities. She is co-chair of the campus group that planned the workshop.
Boone said she has realized that many TC3 students come from high schools that are not diverse.
“They need to see that not every school or community is as homogeneous as theirs,” she said.
In a 2007 survey of 492 students, 93 percent said there was little or no racial conflict on campus, 79 percent said they feel comfortable around people of other ethnic groups than their own, and 53 percent felt that TC3 promoted understanding well.
At Wednesday’s discussion about the Middle East, Thompson pressed the point that Americans do not know as much about the global community as they should. The students agreed.
“Ten percent of the people in Egypt are Christians and it is not a problem,” said Hassan Hussein, 29, a student from Egypt. He said many Americans do not know that Arabs can be Christian as well as Muslim.
The tall, blond Friends said he just wanted to know for himself why the Middle Eastern students insist that America’s support of Israel for decades is wrong and that the U.S. should try to understand the issues of the region better.
Friends said his native Trumansburg is not very diverse, yet coming to TC3 was not a shock. He quickly became accustomed to having older students in his classes and understood why they were at TC3.
“I’m an only child, so I’ve always been around my parents’ friends and heard about what’s on their minds,” he said.
Friends said the Internet has shown people of his generation the world beyond where they live. Yet college has taken some adjustment as he tries to understand international students’ English through their accents, and they try to tell Americans their perspectives.
“One student asked if we have cars, and I said Cairo has more cars than New York City,” said Mostafa, who is studying computer science. “It is very nice to be here. Before I came here, I had a very bad view of the American people. But a big part of this has changed. They are very nice people, except they just know about America.”
Hussein said he has many friends at TC3 and students there accept him well, “but we don’t discuss politics.”
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