Introduction: Building Communities and Making Connections in the 21st Century: A new Role for Higher Education
Abstract:This edited monograph brings together innovative, exploratory, and thoughtful research essays on a variety of topics related to the role of higher education and academic research, and the need to establish academic alliances with the communities we serve. This is particularly important as our world becomes smaller and globalization seems to be the norm rather than the exception.
As language educators, we are immersed in a dynamic, rapidly changing environment marked by a sense of urgency in the United States due to the nation's multilingual and multicultural deficit. We face our nation's inability to communicate with other parts of the world, shortages of qualified language teachers, a lack of understanding of other cultures and languages, and a growing ethnocentric, monolingual society. It is this society that instead of embracing and fostering the linguistic and cultural diversity of its immigrants, encourages an assimilation process that promotes the loss of languages and cultures that are a priceless resource in a global community.
These issues must be addressed by higher education. As universities continue to emphasize the building of international areas of distinction and the need to serve domestic populations and communities that represent languages and cultures other than English, it is urgent that these institutions respond to the societal needs of our state, nation and the world by placing intercultural competence at the center of our curricula and providing opportunities for students and faculty to connect with their surrounding communities. We must begin to provide skills and tools (e.g., languages, intercultural competency, consciousness of social justice issues, communication skills, etc.) that create global citizens ready to engage in economic growth and social progress. To this end, this collection of essays describes and presents academic models that have found innovative ways to establish connections and partnerships with underrepresented communities. These models are being piloted all over the United States, and it is our hope that they will continue to expand and guide learning and teaching in the 21st Century.