Strengthening Community through Cross-Cultural Interactions

Organizing spaces and events for quality interactions between natives and newcomers increases the sense of community for all

What We Know

  • Preliminary evidence suggests that positive cross-cultural interactions in diverse communities can improve relationships (1;2;3).
  • A sense of community is stronger in homogenous communities and is weaker as diversity increases (4;5).
  • Diverse communities may have a higher potential to develop strong social capital networks than homogenous ones (6).
  • Even when the potential for social capital development exists, multiple barriers may prevent immigrants from being able to develop these networks, including language barriers and the demands of work schedules (7).
  • Increasing positive contact, finding commonalities, and recognizing, appreciating and embracing differences between groups may increase sense of community in diverse areas (3;4).

Why This Matters

  • Many different organizations set up intentional cross-cultural interactions, but they rarely have the institutional capacity to conduct program evaluations (3).
  • As immigrants arrive at new destinations, many people hold that their communities must adapt and attempt to integrate them or risk social fragmentation.
  • Some researchers have argued that greater diversity causes social isolation and weakens the sense of community, while others have argued that diversity creates more opportunities for creating strong social networks and improving social cohesion. (5;6;8;9)

What We Need to Know

  • How are rural communities affected by the intersection of multiple forms of diversity? (5;6;8)
  • Are there challenges specific to communities attempting to incorporate immigrants compared to diverse communities with low immigrant populations?
  • Do intentional cross-cultural programs affect social capital or sense of community? If so, do they affect only those who participate, or do they benefit the entire community? (2;10)
  • Much of the research on this topic comes out of the field of community psychology. Some community psychologists critique the field for its lack of qualitative studies. More qualitative research is necessary to explore the subjective experiences of community among immigrants and U.S.-born residents (11).
  • Existing research on cross-cultural programs focuses on only a few specific programs. We need to know more about a broader range of programs, and more about the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful cross-cultural programs. (1;2;3)

Intended Audience

  • Elected officials
  • Public servants
  • Cultural Liaisons
  • Community Leaders

Sources and Further Reading

1. O’Connor, Brendan. 2013. “From Isolation to Community: Exploratory Study of a Sense-of-Community Intervention.” Journal of Community Psychology 21, no. 8 (November): 973-991. Accessed November 8th, 2014.
2. Alaimo, Katherine, Thomas M. Reischl, and Julie Ober Allen. 2010. “Community Gardening, Neighborhood Meetings, and Social Capital.” Journal of Community Psychology 38, no. 4: 497-514. Accessed November 8th, 2014.
3. Downs Schwei, Tamara and Katherine Fennelly. 2007. “Diversity Coalitions in Rural Minnesota Communities.” CURA Reporter (Winter): 13-22. Accessed November 8, 2014.
4. Townley, Greg, Bret Kloos, Eric P. Green, Margarita M. Franco. 2011. “Reconcilable Differences? Human Diversity, Cultural Relations and Sense of Community.” American Journal of Community Psychology 47, no. 1-2 (March): 69-85. Accessed June 25, 2015.
5. Neal, Zachary P., Jennifer Watling Neal. 2014. “The (In)compatability of Diversity and Sense of Community.” American Journal of Community Psychology 53, no. 1-2 (March): 1-12. Accessed June 25, 2015.
6. Neal, Zachary. 2015. “Making Big Communities Small: Using Network Science to Understand the Ecological and Behavioral Requirements for Community Social Capital.” American Journal of Community Psychology 55, no. 3-4 (June): 369-380. Accessed June 25, 2015.
7. Bathum, Mary Elizabeth, Linda Ciofu Baumann. 2007. “A Sense of Community Among Immigrant Latinas.” Family and Community Health 30, no. 3 (July): 167-177. Accessed June 25, 2015.
8. Putnam, Robert D. 2007. “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture.” Scandinavian Political Studies 30, no. 2: 137-165. Accessed on November 8th, 2014.
9. Portes, Alejandro and Erik Vickstrom. 2011. “Diversity, Social Capital, and Cohesion.” Annual Review of Sociology, 37: 461-79.
10. Recker, Nicholas. 2012. “Bonds, Bridges and Quality of Life in Small Towns.” Applied Research in Quality of Life 8, no. 1 (August): 63-75. Accessed November 8, 2014.
11. Reyes Cruz, Mariolga, Christopher C. Sonn. 2011. “(De)colonizing Culture in Community Psychology: Reflections from Critical Social Science.” American Journal of Community Psychology 47, no. 1-2 (March): 203-214. Accessed June 25, 2015.


Cassie Paulsen, Katie McCoy, and Eleanor Worley