A place of their own? The changing roles of the intercultural centers at the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College

Emmanuel Victor Ago, University of Pennsylvania


The intercultural centers at Swarthmore and Penn were established as institutional agents that primarily served marginalized students. In recent years, however, the centers have become fully incorporated into mainstream campus life—now, taking on the role of fostering cross-cultural discourse between majority and minority students. This research investigates the factors involved in these changes and how, overall, this trend is significant to other intercultural centers as a part of reconsidering diversity throughout higher education. Specifically, I studied specialization at Penn and how establishing separate ethnic-specific centers has affected the Albert M. Greenfield Intercultural Center (GIC). At Swarthmore, I researched integration—that is, how the inclusion of nontraditional marginalized groups and a proposed campus-wide multicultural initiative have changed the Intercultural Center (IC). Qualitative research methods were used to conduct these studies. At Swarthmore, I interviewed six administrators, six faculty, eleven students—and, at Penn, ten administrators, six faculty, ten students. A document analysis of the centers' histories and institutional diversity initiatives was also conducted. After gathering the data, methods of triangulation were used to devise a comprehensive history of diversity on both campuses. The literature supporting this research explored the following theories: (1) racial identity development (Helms, 1990; Cheatham, 1991; Yeh & Huang, 1996); (2) campus culture (Hurtado et al., 1998; Sidel, 1994; D'Souza, 1992); and, (3) student-involvement (Actin, 1975; Tinto, 1993; Terrell et al., 1992). Findings for Swarthmore reveal a considerable institutional commitment to diversity, evident in: continued efforts to increase minority presence, new strategies to create an inclusive campus, and an administrative push toward multiculturalism. For Penn, a similar commitment is evident in: efforts to increase minority presence, new strategies to centralize diversity on campus, and establishing specialized services for minority groups. The conclusion from this study suggests that, as primary agents responsible for implementing diversity programs, both intercultural centers are becoming fully integrated as a result of these overall institutional changes. This is occurring, however, not without resistance.

Subject Area

Higher education|School administration|Bilingual education|Multicultural education

Recommended Citation

Ago, Emmanuel Victor, "A place of their own? The changing roles of the intercultural centers at the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3041078.