Cathryn Bennett: Citizen of the World

By Timothy Crowell.
Ms. Cathryn Bennett, Director of International Programs at Greensboro College. Photo courtesy of Lex Alexander.

On Sept. 22, Ms. Cathyrn Bennett, the Director of International Programs at Greensboro College, presented the first Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation Colloquium of the 2017-18 school year to the students, faculty and staff of Greensboro College and others from the Greensboro community. This presentation, titled “Peaks and Valleys: Learning and Unlearning Culture,” marked the first Colloquium in the series’ new venue, the Campbell Lyceum, located on the first floor of Proctor Hall West.

International students Alla Alaghbri, Vheenah Dei-Tumi, Lena Faber and Paulina Frank welcomed the audience in their native languages and Dr. Natasha W. Veale, Associate Professor of Special Education at Greensboro College, introduced Ms. Bennett and moderated the question and answer session at the end of the lecture. Paulina Frank also won the Amazon gift card at the giveaway following the lecture, which is a tradition at the Tannenbaum-Sternberger Colloquium Series.

Bennett, who was born in Germany and raised in the United States, intertwined personal anecdotes from her travels with broad issues concerning cultural and social issues facing the world today. After claiming there are 164 ways to define culture, Bennett said that she wanted to “convey the complexity of identity,” which is an issue she faced as she lived among different cultures in her travels. In her lecture, she wanted to “encourage genuine discussion,” especially among students, and stress the fact that “context is everything” when discussing cultural attitudes and customs.

At one point in the presentation, Bennett said, “I have the best job,” since she works with people from many different cultures around the world. She then shared stories from her teaching and other work experiences, which led to her main point on the importance of learning and unlearning culture and when it is necessary to do each. She summarized by saying “it’s possible to create a new culture” by knowing what traditions and methods are still helpful to a culture and by combining these with new ideas and experiences.

As the presentation ended, Bennett encouraged more discussion between people of different cultures and between students and educators. Despite her many traveling experiences, Bennett says she is still learning about cultural practices like politeness and other societal expressions, and she encouraged the audience to continue to ask questions as well. Because of her worldly experiences as an educator, Bennett posed the question, directed at the other educators, “Who does the teaching, and who does the learning?”