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Improving Intercultural Competence: Collaboration in Brookings

Members of the Brookings Inclusive Collaborative standing on a staircase.
The Brookings Inclusive Collaborative includes 16 members from various parts of SDSU and the Brookings community. Pictured on stairs, from left, Kas Williams, SDSU and Brookings Human Rights Commission; Lisa Plummer, Brookings School District; Molly Enz, SDSU; Kelli Chromey, SDSU; Christi Garst-Santos, SDSU; and Dawn Petterson, Brookings Economic Development Corporation. Pictured first row, starting from left, Stefanie Torres Chan, Twin City Fan; Becky Kuehl, SDSU; Louis Whitehead, LGW Investments LLC; Matt Rhodes, Brookings Human Rights Commission and the Brookings Register; Maristela Rovai, SDSU Extension; and Sarah Hauge, Brookings Economic Development Corporation; Not pictured are Andrew Sloss, Brookings Economic Development Corporation; Meagan Irvine Miller, Brookings Human Rights Commission; Leyby Guifarro Rodriguez, SDSU; Kelsey Doom, Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce; Angela Lammers, Cetera Services LLC; and Sara Mehltretter Drury, Wabash College.

As the world becomes more connected, the need for understanding various cultures and embracing diversity is becoming even more important. To address that importance in the workplace, Rebecca Kuehl, associate professor in SDSU’s School of Communication and Journalism and the program coordinator of women, gender and sexuality studies, is leading a community-based research project in Brookings. After receiving a Bush Foundation Community Innovation Grant, Kuehl reached out to members of the community to partner with for the project. The team, called the Brookings Inclusive Collaborative, is comprised of 16 individuals from SDSU, Brookings School District, Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce, Brookings Human Rights Commission, Brookings Economic Development Corporation and other areas of the community.

The two-year project will be taking place in three phases. The first phase of the project is conducting focus groups, which began in July and are scheduled to conclude in December. The next phase includes the creation of a community conversation guide based on focus group results. The team members will take the responses from participants and compile information to be used in the guide. Along with the creation of the guide, Kuehl and her team hope to recruit participants and host a community conversation public deliberation event in April 2021. This event will give the opportunity to discuss the guide and engage in constructive dialogue involving diversity and inclusion. The final phase of the project is to host a post-deliberation event focus group and analyze notes, surveys and other materials from the event and focus group. Kuehl said it is important in phase three to engage with community leaders to develop organizational or workplace changes and to implement intercultural competence training. The final report is scheduled to be sent to the Bush Foundation by August 2022.

As with many other projects and events, COVID-19 presented difficulties in the implementation of these phases. When the pandemic hit in the spring, Kuehl said they took a break to figure out how they would proceed. They worked with SDSU’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) to decide the best process for moving forward with focus groups safely. Now, before and after each focus group, Kuehl and her team members spend extra time disinfecting various surfaces. To maintain social distancing, microphones were used to amplify the participants’ responses, as masks and being seated far apart often made it difficult to clearly record and understand. In the future phases, Kuehl and her team will have to navigate the feasibility of hosting a public deliberation event safely, a challenge they are up for.

This project was conceptualized almost a year before the death of George Floyd. Kuehl stated, “Even before our current social unrest, we knew that we have trouble communicating about diversity in the workplace and for a lot of people, there are misconceptions about what diversity is.” Kuehl emphasized the need for this type of research in the grant application. She stated that although employee training is one strategy to increase inclusion in the workplace, it is often ineffective. By using the unique approach of including public deliberation and the input of multiple stakeholders, Kuehl and her team aim to create positive change in the Brookings community.

This type of research upholds the mission of our university, said Kuehl. “We [SDSU] are a land-grant university. I see community-based participatory research as part of that land-grant mission of involving the community and improving our community and state.”