sealPurdue News

April 25, 2003

Purdue promotes cross-cultural awareness at special workshops

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University has more international students than any public university in the United States and a wide representation of employees from many different countries and cultures.

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To help its employees work more effectively in that multicultural environment, the Purdue Division of Housing and Food Services has created educational workshops and initiated programs to promote cultural values. Employees participate in programs that provide a "hands on" cultural learning experience.

Mark Liedtke, cultural programs administrator, says the idea is to stimulate an appreciation for Purdue's diversified student body and work force.

"Our goal is to assist staff in interacting effectively and comfortably with people from other cultures, which might include students, faculty, staff and visitors," Liedtke says. "These goals reflect the objectives of the strategic plan for the division and the university."

Jenny Gough, Housing and Food Services director of strategic planning and cultural programs, says, "It has to be systemic, part of what we do every day. It has to be part of how we think in working together and getting to know each other."

Liedtke says workshop attendees learn to value clear communication.

"Simple instructions and processes can avoid wasted time and effort and prevent accidents," he says. "This is accomplished through the translation of critical information into Spanish, such as the proper use of cleaning chemicals."

Programs focus on topics such as supervisors using clear language, free of idioms. An international employee or student may literally interpret "dropping the ball" or "getting the lead out."

Another emphasis is on maintaining positive relationships between supervisors and staff.

The Division of Housing and Food Services offers English and Spanish instruction for its hourly and administrative staff. During the first week of new employee orientation, participants learn about cultural differences and the way they view themselves.

Liedtke says small but practical matters, such as the variety of labels for buttons on elevators, also can be especially challenging to other cultures.

"How often have you had to think about the floor you wanted when you were faced with LL, M, B, P, etc.?" he asks.

Liedtke also has trained staff on the correct way to record names, which can be of great importance to some cultures. An accent or its omission can change the meaning of a name and be offensive. For example, the name "Peña" means boulder in Spanish; however, "Pena" means pity or shame. Recording a name in an improper order also can cause confusion or mistrust.

John Sautter, vice president for housing and food services, says he has a special interest in helping staff understand cultural differences. Past cultural programs to which he has committed have explored East Indian, Hispanic and Asian cultures. African and Afro-Latino cultures will be explored this fall.

"Housing and Food Services staff is continually looking for ways to further enrich the working, learning and living environment through diversity and its positive impact in these areas," Sautter says. "We need to appreciate this gift of cultural variety."

Writer: Marydell Forbes, (765) 496-7704,

Sources: Mark Liedtke, (765) 494-0500,

Jenny Gough, (765) 496-3134,

John Sautter, ((765) 494-1022,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Reporters also are invited to attend a workshop for HFS foreign-born employees and their supervisors. The workshop, which will provide information on U.S. history, the law, employment, taxes and other residence issues, will take place from 10 a.m. to noon and 1-3 p.m. Tuesday (4/29) in Hillenbrand Hall, Room C-27.



J.B. Lu, Purdue University academic adviser, demonstrates the use of chopsticks during a combined staff meeting facilitated by the Division of Housing and Food Services. (Housing and Food Services photo/John Underwood.)

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