Lisle, Illinois ~ As a Latina-American woman, prejudice isn’t a foreign word for Nayeli Vazquez. She’s encountered more than a few people who have assumed she was either an immigrant or a high school dropout.
But not one of those conclusions about Vazquez is true.
In fact, Vazquez is a standout at Benedictine University where the Glenview native majors in International Business and Economics. She is all about academics and preparing for her future, learning from others in an environment where she feels accepted and welcomed to openly discuss her ideas and beliefs with a student body and faculty which represent a wide variety of people from many different walks of life and faiths. It’s a setting, she says, that has led her to grow, flourish and defy tired, baseless stereotypes.
“I know what it’s like to be stereotyped,” Vazquez said. “After high school, I felt like a few people thought I would obtain a menial job with low wages. But that isn’t who I am, and today, I can prove that all of those people were wrong about me.”
As a member of Benedictine’s International Club, she has learned to work and communicate with a team of students who are from various ethnic groups, countries and religions who respect her opinions and thoughts, while she, in turn, gets to learn and hear about their many different beliefs and experiences.
“I value all of the friends I have made here – especially since I have made friends with such a diverse group of people,” Vazquez said. “I have great friends who are Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, and I’m always excited and happy to learn something new about them and their culture.”
Ryan Nguyen, a senior majoring in Social Science and Criminal Justice who was born in Vietnam, came all the way from California to Benedictine not only for its small classes and personal attention, but for the diversity of its students and faculty.
“I value the diversity of this University so much because it influences and teaches the student body to interact and learn from different kinds of people that one would not expect to come in contact and hold a dialogue with in their everyday lives,” Nguyen said.
Opportunities that allow students to explore and appreciate different cultures at Benedictine include the Catholic-Muslim Student Dialogue group, where students of both faiths come together in a respectful atmosphere to discuss the Bible and the Quran; religious issues and customs; the Intercultural House, a special residence hall where students are randomly assigned and encouraged to interact with a roommate with contrasting life experiences; as well as several interfaith dinners, cross-cultural events and dozens of study abroad opportunities.
By participating in these activities, students develop new knowledge, skills, attitudes and increased respect for others and their own cultures, according to Carol Swett, assistant to the provost for Intercultural Education at Benedictine.
“This leads to the students gaining the ability to effectively communicate with people from different nationalities and languages – skills that a growing number of employers are looking for in new hires,” Swett said. “We know that college graduates of the 21st century must be interculturally competent in order to collaborate and compete with others at the global level, which is why we’re making a deliberate and strategic effort to foster these kinds of unique intercultural interactions on campus.”
If she didn’t come to Benedictine for college, Sarah Ray, a junior Social Science major from Elk Grove Village who is Catholic, might never have developed a greater understanding of Islam and had the chance to ask questions she had about the religion, including why some Muslim women wore hijabs and why others wore burqas.
“The fact that I go to a very diverse university has helped me to open up and interact with others of different backgrounds,” Ray said. “Because of Benedictine, I have become more open to meeting and learning from new people of different religious backgrounds. Benedictine helped me to step outside my comfort zone and defy stereotypes.”
Jocellyn Ligocki, a Naperville native who graduated in May with a Bachelor of Science in Health Science, got to better know individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities through the Best Buddies club at Benedictine.
During her three years with Best Buddies, Ligocki planned and hosted events like parties, dances, talent shows, service projects and trips to pumpkin patches, bowling allies and basketball games – all of which helped break down preconceptions and allowed participants and student volunteers to come together as equals.
“The experience helped the two groups build long-lasting friendships and helped to make everyone feel accepted,” Ligocki said. “Everyone is special and human in their own way and a disability or illness should not place people into a category in order to make them feel ‘different’ or less than human. I personally enjoyed having the opportunity to put a smile on someone’s face and create unity among the Benedictine and local community.”
As a Catholic institution, Benedictine University aims to inquire, inspire, discuss, hold dialogue and search for a truth that encompasses the ideas of all viewpoints and cultures and is committed to bringing this mutual exchange for understanding into focus among its diverse community every day.
Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois and Mesa, Arizona. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 55 undergraduate majors and 15 graduate and four doctoral programs. Benedictine University is ranked No. 1 among the country's fastest-growing campuses between 2000-2010 in The Chronicle of Higher Education's list of private nonprofit research institutions, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the second consecutive year in 2012. Benedictine University's Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain's Chicago Business as the fifth largest in the Chicago area in 2012.