ST. GEORGE – A new Dixie State University international council assembled by Pakistani Professor Bashir Shadman hopes to unite everything international going on at the university in St. George. The number of international students enrolled at DSU continues to spike while more and more local students are studying abroad and the university is gaining more international influence with help from the DocUtah film festival.
The newly formed international council was spearheaded by Shadman, an international law specialist and DSU professor of business law and criminal law. The council is aimed at fostering the growth of the university’s international endeavors in hopes that more diversity will bring a better understanding to the collective psyche of Southern Utah, an understanding of the universal good of humanity no matter what part of the world one is from.
Asian influence growing in Dixie
Asian influence has been permeating Dixie State University recently. The number of international students enrolled has tripled in two years. Currently, there are approximately 200 international students, DSU International Coordinator Everton Araujo said for the DSU International Student Services office. Three-quarters of these international students are from China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Besides an influx of international students here, local DSU students are going on exchange programs across the globe to Europe, Asia and Africa. DSU’s DocUtah film festival has also worked with international films from across the globe making solid connections internationally, including hosting DOCUTAH-China, its international film festival in Dalian, China.
All of these projects, until now, have been somewhat disjointed, and there is currently no center at DSU to coordinate what’s going on, Shadman said. The newly developed international council is hoping to unite all of these international happenings and eventually morph into something bigger, a focal point with a center on campus where everyone involved with international endeavors can work together.
“Students from Dixie are going to Japan, to England – movies are coming from all across the world, Shadman said, “But, there has to be one coordination, one spot where all of this stuff gets together … a spot for exchange programs, joint degrees, and where students can send in movies for festivals.”
Dixie State benefits from diversity
Fostering this international influence at Dixie State has a multitude of benefits, Shadman said. The top two benefits Shadman sees are economic benefits and, more importantly, benefits of an altruistic nature.
First of all, “it would open up a huge market for Dixie,” Shadman said.
As international interest in U.S. schools continues to rise, Shadman said he thinks that by focusing our connections with prospering countries in Asia and the Middle East, the International Council will help DSU with their plans to become a large university instead of just a small local college. As well, having more of an international presence would bring more money to the school and the community, he said.
A Muslim in “Mormonville”?
Besides the economic benefits, Shadman said, he is more excited about the altruistic benefits – the benefits the community and the world at large will receive from increased adversity here. His own life experience, he said, has taught him the importance of diversity.
Shadman grew up Muslim in a tribal area of Pakistan. Since then he’s lived for 13 years in various places across the U.S. One of the most unique cultures Shadman has encountered, he said, is Southern Utah.
“I want Southern Utah culture to be exposed to the cultures over there and those students coming over here to be exposed to this culture,” Shadman said.
“When I told people I was going to Dixie, everyone said, ‘there’s racism over there,’ especially to me, being from Pakistan, being a muslim.”
Shadman wasn’t sure where to live in Southern Utah. He started his housing search by calling the temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“All temples are good, whatever the religion is,” Shadman said.
He asked a contact at the temple if they could help him find a home, he said. The temple worker put him in touch with resources who eventually helped him find a home with three LDS men.
“I thought, I don’t drink, I don’t party, what better place to stay than with the Mormon crowd,” Shadman said.
Once arriving at his new home, he opened the front door and found a big picture of Jesus Christ in the entryway. Instead of feeling alienated, Shadman said he felt comforted.
“That’s my prophet too,” Shadman said. “I found a home with these three guys, I’ve never found racism here. I love it.”
Humanizing other cultures
Experiences like this have helped shape Shadman’s optimistic view of the world and his motivation for starting the international council.
“We are all suffering from ‘us and them’ syndrome,” he said. When soldiers or Americans go to the Middle East, he said, besides a few exceptions, they get treated well and return with a positive view of the people. And he said:
We generally cannot humanize the enemy until we meet them. When I’m over there (in the Middle East), I hear people say, “why don’t we just destroy the enemies?” When I’m over here (in the U.S.), sometimes I hear, “why don’t we just nuke the whole area?” However, most people who come back from war zones have a positive view of the people – not the war, but the people.
International travelers are able to empathize with people from other cultures, Shadman said, no matter where they’re from. “People who travel can really really be a bridge between cultures,” he said.
Shadman wants to create more opportunity in Utah’s Dixie for people to interact with diverse cultures. “Most of the time people want to do good things, but they are too shy or embarrassed,” Shadman said, “you just have to provide opportunity and they’ll do it. It’s beautiful.”
In Southern Utah, there is a hunger for diversity and knowledge of other cultures, Shadman said. He gets inundated with questions from local citizens when they realize that he has traveled the world and experienced many cultures. He often gets bombarded with questions on religion or war or south Asia or Syria. His message for locals is this :“We are here. We are coordinating this council for them.”
Meet the diverse group of council members
One of Shadman’s coordination efforts has been actively nourishing connections with two of the oldest universities in India located in the cities of Delhi and Aligarh. Shadman is currently make arrangements with them to sign Memoranda of Understanding so that DSU can have exchange programs with both schools.
Besides Shadman, there are approximately 10 other members of the council, among them two of the University’s vice presidents, plus a handful of department chairs and professors.
Notable council members include Schezad Sheikh, Matt Morin and Christina Schultz. Sheikh is a renowned artist from Pakistan who is now a DSU art professor. Morin, who has connected Dixie with groups in Nairobi, Kenya, and Tanzania in the past, is taking students to Tokyo for an exchange this year. Schultz is going to India in December to try to help with Shadman’s efforts to make connections for exchange programs with the universities there.
Most of the council members have interacted with various cultures across the globe through traveling, themselves, or helping others travel.
Through this interaction with other cultures, Shadman said, the council will help to spread one of his messages: “Being different doesn’t mean that another person is right or wrong, it’s just being different – that’s the beauty of it.”
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