Valerie De Cruz: Championing Interculturalism at Penn

As director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Greenfield Intercultural Center for 17 years, Valerie De Cruz has had a guiding hand in the creation of cultural resource centers that many Penn student see as homes away from home: MakuuLa Casa Latina and the Pan-Asian American Community House.

De Cruz, who was born in Brunei, is an advocate for underrepresented minorities and first generation college students. It’s her job to provide expertise, leadership and support to assist the University in increasing access to quality education for all students, a key priority in President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact 2020

Prior to coming to the University, De Cruz served as assistant dean for multicultural affairs at Princeton University and before that was a counselor and assistant dean of students at Oberlin College.

She works with national college preparatory organizations such as Questbridge, The Posse Foundation, KIPP and College Horizons, as well as local organizations such as Philadelphia Futures and Steppingstone Inc. to help support their students who have matriculated to Penn.

De Cruz also helps to design new intercultural courses, programs and services at Penn. She routinely consults with schools, college houses and administrative units on topics related to diversity, cross-cultural communication and intercultural issues.

In partnership with faculty within Penn’s Graduate School of Education and School of Arts & Sciences, GIC has supported the creation of intercultural courses that are offered for credit, including an experiential learning design course that is now part of the core requirement in the master’s degree in intercultural communication at GSE and a course that teaches students about classical Arab music. This summer the center provided support for a week-long professional development course for teachers on Arab Music and the Arts in partnership with the community organization Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture.

“Having experienced some of the innovative course offerings at the GIC, students advocated successfully for changes in the curriculum to ensure that all Penn students in the College have some exposure to course work related to diversity and cross-cultural issues,” De Cruz says.

In 2008, De Cruz worked with University Life Arts Initiatives to design a GSE and Arts & Sciences cross-listed GIC course, Teaching Performance and the Arts for Cross-Cultural Education.

“TPACE explores the use of theater and storytelling to look at difficult questions around identity and difference,” De Cruz says. “This year the TPACE instructor, Suzana Berger, a Penn alum who also directs theater in the city, hopes to incorporate public school students in the class.”

In a partnership with Penn Hillel and the African American Resource Center, De Cruz oversees Penn’s Alliance and Understanding Program, in which black, Jewish and other students explore civil rights history and the collaboration between blacks and Jews during that era. Students attend a retreat and campus lectures followed by a spring break trip to four cities in the South to tour landmark sites in the civil rights movement. They also meet with veterans of the 1960s struggles and with people working on contemporary social-justice issues.

Through her work with Penn Admissions, Native Students at Penn and the Association of Native Alumni, De Cruz and the staff at the GIC have helped to increase the number of Native students at Penn and created a community for them and any student interested in Native, First Nation and Indigenous communities locally and globally. Through a partnership with College Horizons, the GIC worked with Penn Admissions to bring 100 high school sophomores and juniors of Native American, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian descent to Penn in the summer of 2012 to learn how to navigate the college-application process. This year GIC helped Penn students host their 5th Annual Powwow bringing dancers, drummers, native families and more than 100 attendees to campus.

De Cruz says, “Students have identified GIC programs as being instrumental in strengthening their understanding of themselves and societal issues, thereby helping to catapult them into leadership positions both at Penn and in their professional lives.”

For mentoring staff and students at Penn, De Cruz has been recognized with several awards and honors, most recently the Women of Color at Penn Award. But she says one of her biggest rewards has been seeing students and staff that she’s mentored over the years begin careers in student affairs and continue to support diverse student populations at Penn and at colleges and universities across the country.