When I read the article titled “When Diversity Training Goes Awry” in Diverse’s Jan. 24, 2008 edition, I was once again reminded that my own experiences and observations of diversity work in colleges have often had a similar outcome. Some people attend mandatory diversity trainings reluctantly and frequently leave angry because they feel attacked or criticized just because they are from the majority group. Although colleges have worthy intentions to assist and guide people in a developmental learning process about diverse issues, the trainings, as the article suggests, often backfire because of a confrontational approach that hopes to build an empathic response.
While I don’t possess the quintessential answer on how to approach organizational diversity training, I have seriously questioned if there is a different way to get at the intended learning outcomes — to increase effectiveness in services and instruction and to ensure college environments for students and staff are free from bias and discrimination. To this end, I spent the last three years researching and writing about the journey of developing multicultural competency. For me, it has been an operative concept that has come of age in the diversity movement because it moves the work from the external to a more internal and reflective process. I will explain.
I recently completed a doctoral dissertation that explored the development of multicultural competency in student affairs professionals. The purpose of this study was to gain understanding of how student affairs professionals develop their own multicultural competence. Multicultural competence refers to an assessment of awareness, knowledge and skills, with the expressed intention of promoting the principles of social justice in education.
According to Dr. Raechele L. Pope, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at University at Buffalo, State University of New York, the following attributes are all components of multicultural competency: awareness and beliefs about the value of cultural differences and the effect of one’s cultural heritage on attitudes and behavior; knowledge and curiosity of cultural diversity and issues that have contributed to the marginalization of diverse groups, and a perspective on root causes and systems of privilege and oppression; skills in communication, empathy, incorporation of new learning, and the ability to understand and advocate in issues for social justice.
Higher education institutions are making deliberate and conscientious efforts to support diverse populations by providing professional development for improving teaching practices, increasing staff awareness of diversity, hiring a more diverse staff and developing a more culturally competent service delivery to students. Many student affairs professionals believe they play a vital role on college campuses for advancing the goals of a multicultural agenda. Student affairs is a focal point because its mission and role at a college is to support the intellectual development of students by focusing on personal and ethical development.
When asked how one can be taught to be multiculturally competent, several of the student affairs professionals in my study had differing perspectives. “Nia” told me she was raised “not only knowing ‘who’ I was but also ‘whose’ I was and from whence I came” because she believed that connecting with our personal history gives us the window to whom we are today. “Chief Joseph” spoke passionately about how to find people who can link their multicultural competence with their personal and intrinsic values and then provide passionate leadership to operationalize it. “Socorro” felt strongly about role modeling multicultural competency so having a personal sense of what this looks like is the responsibility a leader/supervisor takes on.
If one goal of diversity training is to increase the multicultural competence of the participants, then I think it is very difficult for trainings that happen in a daylong, inservice workshop to support the development of a meaningful understanding of self. We need to revamp the learning process, time frame and outcomes to create an environment that cultivates a more internal exploration for the participants. Listening to my study participants talk and the way they mined their stories for the source of experiences that shaped their world view and multicultural competence, my dissertation research confirmed what I hypothesized initially, that to commit to our own personal multicultural competence development, each of us must examine our lived experiences with intentional reflection and retrospective interpretation.
What I observed in each of my participants seemed to be at the core of multicultural competence: sophisticated intuition, profound respect, honorable values, philosophical vision and passion for change. If our tireless, purposeful, and intellectual efforts to impact social justice through diversity work are to increase in effectiveness and decrease critical evaluation, then we must design programs that get to the heart to identify and support each individual’s development of multicultural competency.
— Dr. Serena Ota St. Clair is a faculty member at Rogue Community College in southern Oregon. You may contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email the editor: email@example.com
Click here to post and read comments
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com