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CHAPTER TWO The Vicissitudes of Cultural Competence Dealing With Difficult Classroom Dialogue* GALE YOUNG AND ELIZABETH DAVIS-RUSSELL As we have entered the twenty-first century, our discussions in higher education seem to have expanded from a focus on cultural sensitivity to cultural competence. How culturally competent is the faculty member who is confronted with a class of culturally diverse students, or a clinician who enters into a psychotherapy relationship with a culturally different client? In this chapter, we shall provide a definition of cultural competence that includes not only individuals, but systems as well. We will then discuss the components of cultural competence and what is necessary to become culturally competent. We will present a discussion of difficult dialogues, a consequence of movement toward cultural competence, and conclude with some recommendations on how to deal with difficult dialogues in the classroom. Competence denotes the ability to perform; therefore, the definition of cultural competence that seems most congruent with our perspective is one that is inclusive of attitudes, behaviors, and policies (Cross, Bazron, Dennis, & Isaacs, 1989). This definition specifies that these three must be congruent. On the individual level, the individual must possess a set of congruent attitudes and behaviors that enables him to work effectively in cross-cultural situations. Yet institutions can possess cultural competence, for they can have policies that enable the institution to function effectively in cross-cultural situations. There are several elements of cultural competence (Cross et al., 1989). One of these is valuing diversity. The individual or institution 33 34 Gale Young and Elizabeth Davis-Russell has moved beyond the levels of tolerance, acceptance, and respect, to a level of affirmation, solidarity, and critique (Nieto, 1992). Another element of cultural competence is the capacity of the individual or institution to engage in cultural self-assessment (Cross et al., 1989). In that self-assessment, the individual engages in an examination of her feelings, attitudes, and perceptions toward her own social groups and other racial, ethnic, cultural, gender, and sexual orientation group. At the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP), this has occurred in the intercultural labs for students, and in faculty and staff retreats for faculty and staff, respectively. On the institutional level, the Multicultural Education, Research, and Training Institute (MERIT Institute) conducts an audit that assesses the institution’s commitment to cultural diversity. The audit is inclusive of the institution’s policies and practices. Culturally competent individuals and institutions have a consciousness of the dynamics inherent when cultures interact (Cross et al., 1989). They are not only aware of the “dynamics of difference ,” but also of the dynamics of misinterpretation and misjudgment . These can lead to difficult dialogues, and as we see later in this chapter, the potential for explosive encounters. Culturally competent individuals and institutions are knowledgeable about different communication styles. They understand that one brings culturally prescribed patterns of communication, etiquette, and problem solving to interpersonal interactions, and are aware of the fact that violation of the norms of one another can have serious consequences. Individuals and institutions possess institutionalized cultural knowledge and also possess developed adaptations to diversity (Cross et al., 1989). On the institutional level, the latter means moving from rhetoric to establishing policies and practices that convey that diversity is an integral part of the institution. It is a natural part of doing business. On the individual level, it means listening with an open heart, and noticing others’ feelings and thoughts, as well as one’s own. It means responding without judgment and arrogance. It also means allowing oneself to feel and be present in the jagged racial divide, to feel so intensely the differences that divide and simultaneously the commonalties that bind. Cultural competence is not a luxury. It is a necessity for faculty and clinicians alike. As faculty working to educate and train students from many different cultural backgrounds, imagine this scenario: your class is discussing the day’s reading assignments on how families have viewed children differently over the centuries. A European American White student, drawing from her own experience working in a social service agency with people of color, says, “It seemed like 35 The Vicissitudes of Cultural Competence those people didn’t really care about their children.” Several African American students in the class take offense and demand, “What do you mean by ‘those people’?” The student who made the comment is puzzled and feels put on the spot. The students who are offended by her comment are not going to be put off; they...


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