Throughout history people have held prejudices against others from different ethnicities. The issue continues in today’s society, including among students on university campuses. Defined simply, prejudice is a preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience. Prejudice can lead to discrimination, hatred and even hostility. Subtle forms of intolerance may also occur, such as exclusion or avoidance. Consider this recent story:  

 

Hindu-Muslim Tension Under the Same Roof

J.P. with IFI Cleveland picked up an Indian student from the airport this past winter. The student had previously arranged through his Hindu Sheikh friend to stay at a local Hindu temple. J.P. dropped him off and told him he would stay connected. Several days later J.P. had the opportunity to drive the student again. This time, though, upon returning to the temple, it was deserted due to New Year’s weekend. Not wanting the student to stay on an empty premises, J.P. invited the student to stay with his family over the holiday. The student readily agreed. 

En route, the student suddenly began to share his views on the problems between Muslims and Hindus, explaining why Hindus do not accept Muslims and expressing his anger and hostility toward them.

J.P. broke the news to the Indian student: two Muslim men from Saudi Arabia were currently living with him and his family.  The Hindu student reservedly accepted that fact as they neared the house. Upon entering, it became clear that the Saudi men were equally shocked that J.P. and his family would welcome a Hindu man into their home during their stay. [The story continues below.]

Students may think that achieving mere tolerance of different ethnic groups is enough of a worthwhile goal.  Better still is to gain appreciation for different peoples, based on the high value God has placed on all ethnicities. Let’s take to heart God’s promise to bless all people on earth through Abraham’s descendant (Gen. 12:3) as well as Jesus’ command to believers – to go and make disciples of all people (Matt. 28:19). We know that a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language will worship before Jesus on his throne in heaven (Psalm 86:9, Rev. 7:9.) 

Prejudices can be complex and difficult to overcome. Factors such as culture, religious beliefs, or even deep hurts from the student’s past, may influence opinions and beliefs. How can volunteers challenge a student’s assumptions — their unconscious biases — while making sure the student feels heard?

 

6 Ways to Help International Students Navigate Cultural Prejudice

Consider how you can encourage students with discussion on this subject. Engage with sensitivity, realizing that implicit biases are influenced by many factors including past experiences, culture, and upbringing.  

1. Ask God for His lead. Seeking God’s direction and ability for effective communications is wise before we take any next step. 

2. Ask open-ended questions. Ask questions that allow for sharing by students. Here are some questions you can ask students:

  • What situations have you faced in the United States when you felt uncomfortable due to negative actions, attitudes or stereotypes exhibited toward you as an international student?
  • What about reactions to racial injustice in the United States has surprised you?
  • What have you observed as examples of racial injustice in your own country or culture?
  • What are your family’s concerns about your safety in the United States because of recent racial protests and events here?

3. Seek student insights on current events. Simply talk about current events related to injustice, favoritism, or systemic racism and ask students for their thoughts on solutions. After listening to students, share your perspective on the issues. Share how their perspective influenced you to think differently. 

4. Reveal personal struggles. Reveal how you have tried to recognize and deal with your own personal biases through education and input. Sharing vulnerably can open doors for the student to understand their own biases and rethink them in light of new information. 

5. Share about America’s biases. Research some statistics on biased assumptions in the United States and how these play out in prejudicial ways. For example, studies have shown that when a company receives resumes, applicants with African-American sounding names receive fewer calls and follow-ups, even when their resume gives credentials that match the other applicants.

6. Share Bible stories that show God’s view. The Good Samaritan story in Luke 10, among others, can help international students understand God’ mission of reconciliation. Jesus makes a Samaritan the hero in the parable as a way of helping Jews deal with their cultural prejudices against Samaritans. Powerful too is the Acts 10 story where God sends Peter to Cornelius’ house.  Learning from God’s revelation Peter exclaims, “I now realize that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men and women from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:36.)  Also consider sharing James’ teaching, in James 2, about favoritism and how we are evil when we discriminate between people based on things like economic status or ethnicity.

 

Hindu-Muslim Tension Released

Our dialogues with students in these ways can lead to wonderful outcomes. 

J.P. personally saw how God worked through the situation to allow both the Indian and the Saudi students to be amazed by the fact that his family would host the other. J.P. says “We had some great conversations around this hosting event.”  The Indian student ended up attending IFI Cleveland’s weekly discovery Bible study.  And he joined the winter retreat that featured God’s rescue mission. God also used the unexpected hosting to positively influence the Saudi men.  

 

A Success Story: Japanese-Chinese Forgiveness

Yoshi, a Japanese student who became involved with IFI, gives us a strong example of what can happen when ethnic barriers are addressed with humility.  

Yoshi became a believer while a student in California.  Building on her desire to share God’s truth, she moved to Ohio to further her studies. Knowing her heart for Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans, friends alerted her to the difficulties she might have in reaching these groups because of prejudices tracing back to Japan’s actions during World War II. Yoshi was unaware.

She started researching her country’s history and shared with IFI’s CEO, Rich Mendola, her conviction that what her country had done was wrong. She was embarrassed at the lack of confession for the war crimes. Rich encouraged her to think about making a public apology to the Chinese students who attended IFI’s Bible discussion group. Yoshi prayed. Although born years after the war, she knew God was leading her to take this next step.

It was at an IFI event before hundreds that Yoshi apologized for her country’s terrible sins against other peoples during the war. She asked for forgiveness and prayer for her people. Other Japanese in the audience stood to affirm this apology and several Chinese expressed their forgiveness in tears. Since then, Yoshi saw a journey of healing unfolding between the groups.  Yoshi later dedicated herself to furthering this cultural restoration by moving to China to serve their people.

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Be ready when situations arise to speak to prejudicial assumptions in ways that students know they are valued and heard.  Join the cause to help them to appreciate ethnic diversity.  

What next step is God showing you to begin a conversation with students you know?