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Gale Young, center, and Ishita Maheshwari, right, with a student in United Arab Emirates during a weeklong diversity class.

Middle East university invites student and prof to discuss diversity

  • May 23, 2011

Cal State East Bay’s values have gone international.

At the invitation of United Arab Emirates University, teaching associate and grad student Ishita Maheshwari ’09 and Communication Department Chair Gale Young recently traveled 8,000 miles to discuss the role and value of diversity for a university. Together, they taught intercultural interaction through a weeklong class where most students are Muslim, and encouraged staff and students to understand the differences among members of ethnic, racial, national and religious groups attending and working at the university.

“It was an intellectual and personally invigorating experience,” Young said. “At the end of our trip, the majority of our students were more willing to ask questions and be less judgmental.”

Ties between CSUEB and UAEU developed last summer when a UAEU Faculty member, Dr. James Mirrione, visited the Hayward campus in March 2010.  He expressed amazement toward the cultural differences he observed at CSUEB, according to Young. Two months later he had arranged, with the support of the UAEU Associate Provost Nancy Dye, to bring 6 female students from his university for a 10-day visit to Cal State East Bay in June to learn what its like to be a student in a multicultural environment. 


“These were students who had no clear understanding of intercultural relations,” Maheshwari said about the students who visited. “The goal was to open their minds to different perspectives, religions and cultures.”

Young and Maheshwari traveled with the students to cultural spots around the Bay Area, including a Thai Buddhist temple and Angel Island in San Francisco. The students asked questions and reflected on what they had learned with CSUEB graduate students for an hour each day.

Taking note of the success and positive feedback of the program, UAEU’s provost followed up by inviting Young and Maheshwari to teach the same kind of awareness in the United Arab Emirates for a week in February.

At UAEU, Young and Maheshwari lived among students in the dormitories of the women’s wing of the campus. They taught classes to 12 staff members and 24 students. All participants were female at the university where the sexes are segregated. Students and school officials said that most UAEU attendees also socialize with others based on their country of origin, religion and economic status.

Maheshwari and Young worked with course participants to examine the roots of their biases and held class discussions about creating judgments, stereotypes and the sources of prejudices. In class, students talked daily about how they felt about people who were of different backgrounds and why people create barriers.

“When you teach inquiry to a culture that doesn’t invite questions, it can be dangerous,” Young said. "Women are discouraged from speaking their mind as freely as they do in America. In the short time we had, we scattered some seeds and hope they water them.”

“The language barrier was a limitation,” Maheshwari said. “Due to my understanding Urdu, I was able to pick up a few Arabic words, and they spoke some English … thankfully we had a translator.”

Young and Maheshwari’s assignment also was to research the multicultural climate of UAEU for its administration. They distributed a survey to class participants with questions asking where they witness the most segregation on campus and what their thoughts are about it. Many admitted they were more comfortable with others from the same economic status. The students and staff said language and national origin are significantly responsible for social categorization and divisiveness, Maheshwari said.

“The surveys and class were definitely effective,” Maheshwari said. “(Young and I) didn’t expect it would be this successful.”

Throughout the program, Young and Maheshwari noticed positive changes in the participants. Additionally, participants told Maheshwari and Young the class was helpful, and they are open to the idea of adding similar programs to their campus offerings.

“I hope we gave the same amount as we received,” Young said about the outcome of the class. “There’s so much to learn, if you’re willing to be open.”

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