JANET BENNETT: Her Life and Her Long Connection with SIETAR USA

influencer intercultural communications janet bennett siic summer institute Feb 14, 2022

Janet Marie Bartholomy was born in 1945, in Chicago, IL. She lived there until age 11 when her family moved to Palo Alto, CA. There she attended the Catholic Girls’ School graduating in 1963. In 1972, she completed a BA degree at California State University San Francisco majoring in psychology and journalism. That was followed by a master’s degree in Speech Communication in 1976. She earned a PhD at the University of Minnesota with an emphasis on intercultural communication and anthropology in 1985. 

Janet served in the Peace Corps in Chuuk District, Micronesia (previously known as Truk Atoll) one of a cluster of islands located mid-ocean 1,100 miles north-east of New Guinea. In 1966, she married Milton Bennett who she met as an undergraduate at California State University San Francisco. Moving to Portland, OR, in 1985 she taught at Marylhurst University. 

In 1986, Cliff Clark determined that his Summer Institute at Stanford University should move to Portland under the aegis of Janet and Milton. Milton’s father, Stanton Bennett’s endowment funded that move resulting in the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI) that in turn sponsored the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) that influenced the careers of so many. The peripatetic Summer Institute was initially located at Marylhurst, then housed briefly at the University of Portland, followed by a move to the Pacific University in Forrest Grove, OR for many years. Subsequently Janet moved it to Reed College in Portland. Janet’s warmth and heartwarming skills created a welcoming atmosphere and a total-immersion, interactive learning environment. Many described SIIC as a culture in itself. Janet expanded the Summer Institute concept in Portland to the East Coast with the Winter Institute of Intercultural Communication (WIIC) and to Doha for the Qatar Institute of Intercultural Communication (QIIC).

Several people (primarily Peggy Pusch, SIETAR USA’s founding president) recognized the need for and encouraged Janet to develop an intercultural research library that grew to tens of thousands of volumes, videos, papers and other intercultural and DEI materials ([email protected]). Janet also founded, administered, and supported a Masters in Applied Intercultural Relations (MAIR) degree program. In addition to her managerial duties with ICI and SIIC, Janet maintained a busy presentation schedule with speeches and workshops around the world. She also found time to write book chapters, articles for peer-reviewed journals, and co-edited the third volume of the Handbook of Intercultural Training.  

Perhaps an accomplishment of which she was most proud was the publication of the 2-volume Sage Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence (2015). The 5+ pages of contributors reads like a compendium of intercultural and diversity leaders. In the introduction to the encyclopedia, Janet lists 6 predictions regarding the future of intercultural competence. It is a positive list, reflecting her steadfast belief in the efficacy of intercultural relations training. She ends with “it must be asserted that the outcry for social justice will be heard—perhaps not a prediction, but a fervent desire.” She knew that we were well beyond the time when “clichés about the global village” were enough to justify our work and as always, her deep concern for our world showed through.  

Janet had a close relationship throughout the years with SIETAR International and subsequently SIETAR USA. She was always ready and generous with cogent advice, penetrating insights, and useful recommendations. Janet was an active participant in SIETAR USA conferences. Often invited to give a Master Workshop, she and Milton offered The Transcultural Context of Training at the inaugural conference in 2000 (Fairfax, VA). Janet conducted an array of Master Workshops over the years.

  • Building Intercultural Competence for Trainers (2002 Portland, OR) 
  • Decision Making in Intercultural Teams (2003 Austin, TX) 
  • Designing Intercultural Training: Skills and Tools for the Educator (2005 Jersey City, NJ)
  • Turning Resistance into Engagement: Training Design for Transformative Learning (2006 Albuquerque, NM) 
  • Cultivating Intercultural Competence (2009 Cary, NC) 
  • Have a Nice Day! Reducing Risk and Alleviating Anxiety in the Training Room 2011 (Denver, CO) 
  • Intercultural Inclusion: Inspiration, Aspiration, and Application (2013) 

That is a sample (but not all) of Janet’s Master Workshops reflecting her strengths, skills, expertise, interests, and engagement with the issues of training and intercultural competence.

For the 2010 SIETAR USA conference in Spokane, Program Chairs Esther Louie and Ann Marie Lei chose Janet to deliver the opening keynote address. Janet spoke on Upsetting the Balance: Transforming Ourselves, Transforming the World. In addition, she delivered a Master Workshop at that conference on Teaching Curiosity: The Keystone of Intercultural Competence. A passionate proponent of theory to practice, she consistently referred to the theoretical and research foundation of the intercultural field and demonstrated its application to real world issues—especially those faced by trainers in the classroom.

Janet was the recipient of SIETAR USA’s Margaret D. Pusch Founders Award in recognition of her commitment and service to the intercultural relations field over her long career. The award cited her prolific writing, sharing her intercultural knowledge with others. In addition to numerous chapters and articles in peer reviewed journals, she co-edited with Dan Landis and Milton Bennett the Third Edition of the Handbook of Intercultural Training. She published what she had learned from her interns and students in Turning Frogs into Interculturalists: A Student-Centered Development Approach to Teaching Intercultural Competence (in Goodman, Phillips & Boycigiller (Ed.) Crossing Cultures: Insights from Master Teachers.) The award recognized that as the executive director of ICI and SIIC she influenced the careers of thousands of interculturalists and DEI professionals. Her service to the profession, contributions to the community and to SIETAR USA, and her consummate professionalism earned her the highest award given by SIETAR USA. Her nomination concluded with “Janet Bennett’s unflagging professionalism, her legion contributions to the intercultural field and its literature, her support of colleagues and students, her investment in community and SIETAR in particular deserve to be recognized with the Margaret D. Pusch Founder’s Award in 2013.”

Janet’s life work was building bridges. She understood the impact of cultural differences and she wrote about the need to soften barriers to living life with cultural others and exploring the mysteries of unknown places and peoples. In the introduction to the Sage Encyclopedia, she wrote: “we do so not only to teach more wisely, train more effectively, and manage more appropriately, but also sometimes for the sheer pleasure of experiencing differences.” Janet left us on February 3, 2022. She was a treasure, and she is sorely missed.

Sandra Fowler, Editor
The Interculturalist: A Periodical of SIETAR USA