Intercultural success at SMU

From June 14 - 16, Saint Mary’s hosted distinguished academics from around the world for the International Conference in Intercultural Studies: Immigration, the Dynamics of Identity and Policies for Managing Diversity.

The main goal of the bilingual conference—a collaboration between Modern Languages & Classics professor Dr. Jean-Jacques Defert, Psychology professor Dr. David Bourgeois, and Université Laval faculty member Dr. Jean Ramdé—was to build bridges between researchers and professionals in the public and private sectors.

“We had representatives and employees from the federal and provincial governments, as well teachers, civil servants, and social workers from YMCA and the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, and many others,” said Defert. “They gave very positive feedback, especially around the variety of themes we tackled.”

Variety was a keystone of the conference: more than 40 workshops, panels, and keynote presentations covered subjects ranging from child soldiers to international-student retention to immigrant entrepreneurs.

“The workshops given by community organizations pointed at really concrete ways of dealing with diversity,” said Defert. “For example, we had 45 people from the Conseil acadien scolaire provincial, the Acadian school board in Nova Scotia, attend a workshop by Marie McAndrew of the Université de Montreal on equity and diversity in education, and at the end invited her to continue the discussion.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Ather Akbari, Chair of the Atlantic Research Group on Economics of Immigration, Aging and Diversity, gave a talk entitled “In-Migration and Out-Migration: Atlantic Canada at a Crossroad.” In an interview with Star Metro Halifax, he said “whatever focus groups I have done, I found…if people were given a choice to live either in Nova Scotia to go to another province, if they have a job offer, then they would prefer to stay in Nova Scotia.”

Gatherings of academics and public and private-sector workers like this are critical, says Defert, to build intercultural competence in the province and ensure those immigrants do remain here.

“Nova Scotia is relatively new to having significant levels of diversity,” he said, “so it’s important to exchange ideas and practices.”

The conference was structured around some of the main themes of intercultural studies—education, health, social services, and the workforce—which are also the pillars of a new Intercultural Studies degree program offered by Saint Mary’s.

“This was really the strength of the conference and the program,” says Defert: “bringing together people of all backgrounds to discuss how they deal with, and support, diversity in their own ways.”