By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Mastering the classwork is just a start for students at SMU.

An intentional effort is underway to also teach them how to manage differences.

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It’s called, “cultural intelligence.”

SMU students (CBS 11)

“It gives you a passport to have conversations with people you never thought you could,” says Maria Dixon Hall, PhD, Senior Advisor to the SMU President for Cultural Intelligence and associate professor of corporate communications and public affairs. “What we are asking people to do is learn each others’ language, so we can do the task that we’ve been called to do, which is to shape world changers.”

Cultural intelligence is Dr. Hall’s brainchild.

She insists that it is not another politically correct buzzword, but rather, it is about teaching the campus community how to authentically push past the discomfort and have the conversations that lead to connections.

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“We’re saying after all the resistance, after all the blog postings, what is it we are going to build?” asks Dr. Hall. “And what we are hoping to do at SMU is build bridges across race, across gender, across sexuality, across religion, across generation and across geography. And that’s why we brought these folks to campus.”

SMU Senior Sloane Fuller has attended the speaker series called, Bridgebuilders and says the effort is making the campus community better.

“You don’t know to ask those questions, you don’t know there are conversations to be had,” says Fuller. “It’s also really cool because you do see students becoming aware of that and then choosing for themselves to start having those conversations.”

Fuller says often students are hesitant to tackle those difficult topics for fear of saying the wrong thing.

She says the dialogue inspired by cultural intelligence helps to bring confidence to those conversations. And it’s not just for students. Staff and faculty receive the training as well.

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“I think at the end of the day, people want the same thing,” says Fuller. “They want to be heard, and they want to be understood.”