Darla Deardorff
Dr. Darla Deardorff is a scholar at Duke University and has done research on intercultural competence and peace-building.
Photo provided by MU

Dr. Darla Deardorff Holds VIA on Intercultural Competence, Story Circles

Marisa Engbrecht

Dr. Darla Deardorff spoke about intercultural competency at the VIA in Cordier Auditorium on Monday, Oct. 4 to get students and faculty to learn about the importance of sharing personal stories.

VIA committee member Dr. Beate Gilliar introduced Deardorff as a peace builder, author of ten books and a research scholar at Duke University. Deardorff’s doctorate was focused on a part of peacemaking and what is necessary for humans to get along together.

Once Deardorff began to speak to the audience, she began with the importance of how one’s life values can guide one’s actions. “My core values are tied greatly to my identity as a Jesus follower,” she said.

She then began to talk about what is necessary for humans to get along together. Deardorff challenged the audience to answer this question, giving them a few minutes to discuss it with their peers. She then answered her own question with the ideas of respect, openness, curiosity and discovery. “It’s about being able to go out of our comfort zones, even seeking discomfort,” she said.

“Empathy is really a key piece to this,” Deardorff continued with a smile. She then described an example of how empathy works: by looking through other people’s “sunglasses” to see the world through other people’s lenses.

To introduce an interculturally competent individual to the audience, Deardorff read a quote from acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who navigates both Eastern and Western cultures with grace. The lessons she wanted to communicate through Yo-Yo Ma were to try each culture, learn how values are shaped by multiple cultures, explore multiple cultures, seek discomfort, learn continually, and go beyond one’s voice and identity.

She called the students and faculty to challenge themselves to become more interculturally competent with knowledge and skills, such as cultural self-awareness, deep understanding, knowledge of culture. She invited them to listen, observe, and interpret, and to analyze, evaluate, and relate to others. Deardorff described the desired outcome as being able to become adaptable, flexible, have an ethnorelative view and to have empathy. Additionally she added that people would learn to behave and communicate effectively and appropriately across difference.

“It’s a lifelong process that we’re on,” Deardorff said, talking about becoming interculturally competent. And part of that process may be enhanced by story circles, which she explained to the audience. Inspired by indigenous traditions as a way of bringing people together to understand one another, strengthen bonds and bridge divides, story circles, according to her, are to talk, understand, heal and support. In fact, Deardorff held a story circle at the Toyota Round at 7 p.m. that night after her VIA.

Students found her presentation memorable. “As she talked about story circles and told us many people’s stories, I realized how important this can be to everyday society,” said Mallorie Isley, a first year who attended the VIA. “I enjoyed the VIA because the information she presented us with was truly important to know and can help us make others feel welcomed.”

Students and faculty clapped loudly for Dr. Deardorff as she exited the stage.