Dr. Brandon Jones spoke via Zoom about “Creating Experiences That Engage Difference.” Dr. Jones is an ACU graduate who currently serves as Associate Director for Student Learning and Development in Housing and Dining and is a professor in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Jones began the conversation with a list of seven elements of culture. These cultural elements shape who we are and our perspective of the world around us. These elements include: social organizations, customs and traditions, language, arts and literature, religion, forms of government, and economic systems.
He said that in the work of engaging difference, the goal is looking for understanding, not necessarily agreement. He suggested that being open to understanding another person’s perspective, as shaped through cultural elements, is a significant step to engagement. He also reminded the group that because we are humans, we will judge others. However, he asked that we should intentionally pause and reserve judgment instead of allowing judgment to be our first response.
Dr. Jones uses the word “difference” in place of “diversity.” He suggested that to engage difference we must:
- be curious (ask good questions and lean into discomfort)
- be reflective (think about how your own culture affects how you receive and transmit information and about the words you use and how you say them)
- be open (know that it’s OK to make mistakes and to be receptive to feedback and alternative explanations)
When engaging difference with students, he advises to keep the questions open-ended. Ask students how they came to a certain conclusion and to simply “tell you more.”
Dr. Jones connected his suggestions to Christian faith commitments. The very idea of engaging difference is living out the Christian faith because the gospel is other-centered.