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Shaping Cultural Competence

Although he calls Newark, N.J., home, Johnny Culver '15 was more prepared for small-town living than one might think. He was somewhat eased into the idea after attending high school at Wyoming Seminary Preparatory School in the northeastern Pennsylvania borough of Kingston. Although somewhat more bustling than Selinsgrove, Kingston is pretty similar in size and demographic make-up. So, ironically, it wasn't the rural setting or mostly homogenous population to which Culver had to adjust when he arrived at Susquehanna. His biggest challenge was learning to manage his time-an ageless challenge felt by nearly every college student at one point or another.

Culver's is a particularly interesting schedule to juggle. Between his music major and biology-healthcare studies minor, directing both Gospel Choir and the a capella group Harmonic Combustion, working as a tour guide and serving on a variety of other student organizations, Culver quickly found himself spread thin. "I had problems managing how much time I committed to each. But with the help of my adviser and my peers, I have learned how to prioritize and take into consideration what's best for me and delegate my time accordingly," he says.

One priority he quickly identified was Gospel Choir. In 2012, Culver and co-director Yasmine Chervin '16 breathed new life into the choir after several years of inactivity. Culver says it was important for him and Chervin to resurrect the choir because "it's a piece of home that we could enjoy right here on campus.

"Most of us [in the choir] grew up singing gospel music in our church choirs and it's an important part of why we are who we are," Culver explains.

What's more, Culver says the group is helping to shape the cultural competency of campus. "A lot of people would assume that since gospel music has primarily African-American roots, that only black people could take something away from being part of the choir," Culver says. "However, if anyone has the opportunity to watch the Gospel Choir perform, they'll see that we have people from all walks of life-black, white, Asian, African and more."

And it's not only choir members who benefit from this cross-cultural experience; so, too, does the audience members who witness their performances. "Those who come and watch the Gospel Choir get to experience the coming together of an amazing ensemble full of diversity and infectious energy. It is definitely something I am proud to be a part of," Culver says.

As a first-year student, Culver assumed, from his time at Wyoming Seminary, that the environment at Susquehanna would be friendly and academically driven. And his assumptions were right, but Culver says he also found that "SU is not only a place of higher learning, it is also a place to have fun, grow as a human being and meet some amazing people along the way."

Key, in Culver's opinion, to meeting those amazing people is the diversified campus community Susquehanna is building. University leaders and personnel "have not only managed to get people from different backgrounds and ethnic groups on the same campus, but they have also designed an institution which allows these different types of people to interact and learn together in a safe environment," Culver says.

While that environment is far from idyllic at an institution still working toward its goals of increasing diversity and inclusiveness, Culver believes Susquehanna is on the right track with its efforts to create cultural competency. "As a community, cultural competency is important because it creates an accepting atmosphere and allows people from different backgrounds to feel comfortable learning and growing together," he says. 

By Victoria Kidd



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