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Exploring Cultural Diversity
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by Kathryn S. Lee, PhD - Texas State University-San Marcos
Due to its recent constitutional amendment, as Psi Chi situates itself “at the global
table” and is “enriched with a world filled with diverse ideas, perspectives, and
opinions” (Wang, 2010, p. 4) it is timely to explore cultural diversity and the
tenets of being culturally responsive. Multicultural education and diversity training
are complex endeavors; however, one can begin by exploring a few of its many elements.
For example, what is culture? How is it important? What are the essential principles
for working within a multicultural environment? What are some valuable resources
I can use as a Psi Chi member or advisor to increase my cultural awareness and enhance
my cultural competence?
So, when you think of culture, what comes to mind? Ethnicity, religious affiliations,
socioeconomic status? Or food preferences and holiday celebrations? These are all
elements of culture, yet as you can see from the following definition, culture encompasses
a myriad of dimensions:
Culture is a system of norms, standards, and control mechanisms with which members
of society assign meanings, values, and significance of things, events, and behaviors;
culture includes patterns of knowledge, skills, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs,
as well as material artifacts produced by human society and transmitted from one
generation to another (Pai, Adler, & Shadiow, 2006, p. 239).
In what ways is culture important? According to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological contextual
theory of development (1986), we grow and develop within various nested environments
that profoundly influence who we are—our identity. Both the micro and macro dimensions
of our environment greatly affect our development. For example, we develop within
the multiple contexts of our families, communities, and countries. Our peers, relatives,
and other adults impact our development, as well as the media, our national and
community leaders, and other environmental and social influences. In other words,
our culture greatly shapes who we are.
Many people have long understood the importance of culture in teaching and learning.
For example, in Diversity Within Unity: Essential Principles for Teaching and Learning
in a Multicultural Society (Banks et al., 2001) a panel of distinguished
and interdisciplinary experts identified and published a number of design principles
to improve education in the U.S. Although these principles are steeped within the
field of education, they may be transferred to the field of psychology. I have modified
the language in the following list of principles to fit more seamlessly within the
context of this text and have substituted educational practitioners for
schools and individuals for both students and teachers
Many of us perform a variety of roles in which these design principles may be fitting,
including the actual teaching of psychology in secondary or higher education; planning
and coordinating conferences and workshops; giving presentations in both formal
and informal settings; and/or consulting with clients.
As a Psi Chi member or advisor, numerous resources are available to increase cultural
responsiveness. Gorski’s Multicultural Pavilion website is an invaluable resource
His 20 (Self-) Critical Things I Will Do to Be a Better Multicultural Educator (2010)
is one of my favorite EdChange resources. In White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible
Knapsack, McIntosh (1990) effectively articulates the invisible privileges inherent
in being white in our society that many take for granted. Additionally, professional
development workshops and conferences often have opportunities to develop one’s
In summary, Hill (1991) eloquently articulates the characteristics of respectful
conversations between peoples of diverse communities:
Conversations of respect between diverse communities are characterized by intellectual
reciprocity. They are ones in which the participants expect to learn from each other,
expect to learn non-incidental things, expect to change at least intellectually
as a result of the encounter. Such conversations are not animated by nor do they
result in mere tolerance of the pre-existing diversity, for political or ethical
reasons. In such conversations, one participant does not treat the other as an illustration
of, or variation of, or a dollop upon a truth or insight already fully possessed.
There is no will to incorporate the other in any sense into one’s belief system.
In such conversations, one participant does not presume that the relationship is
one of teacher to student (in any traditional sense of that relationship), of parent
to child, of developed to underdeveloped. The participants are co-learners (p. 43).
It is essential that we who are involved in the study and practice of psychology
possess a high degree of empathic understanding (Rogers, 1961). Understanding cultural
differences is, by its nature, an inherently essential aspect of empathy. Cultural
competency, however, is more than having empathic understanding. It also involves
nonjudgmental active listening as well as acceptance, appreciation, and respect
for the myriad of differences in human ways of being. Advancing our cultural competence
is a continuous process of learning, reflection, and action.
» Professional development programs should help individuals understand the complex
characteristics of ethnic groups within U.S. society and the ways in which race,
ethnicity, language, and social class interact to influence participants’ behavior.
» Educational practitioners should ensure that all individuals have equitable opportunities
to learn and to meet high standards.
» The curriculum should help individuals understand that knowledge is socially constructed
and reflects researchers’ personal experiences as well as the social, political,
and economic contexts in which they live and work.
» Educational practitioners should provide all individuals with opportunities to
participate in extracurricular and cocurricular activities that increase academic
achievement and foster positive interracial relationships.
» Educational practitioners should create or make salient superordinate or crosscutting
groups in order to improve intergroup relations.
» Educational practitioners should learn about stereotyping and other related biases
that have negative effects on racial and ethnic relations.
» Educational practitioners should learn about the values shared by virtually all
cultural groups (e.g., justice, equality, freedom, peace, compassion, and charity).
» Educational practitioners should help individuals acquire the social skills needed
to interact effectively with participants from other racial, ethnic, cultural, and
» Educational practitioners should provide opportunities for individuals from different
racial, ethnic, cultural, and language groups to interact socially under conditions
designed to reduce fear and anxiety.
» Organizational strategies should ensure that decision making is widely shared
and that members of the community learn collaborative skills and dispositions in
order to create a caring learning environment for individuals.
» Leaders should ensure that all public schools, regardless of their locations,
are funded equitably.
» Educational practitioners should use multiple culturally sensitive techniques
to assess complex cognitive and social skills. (Banks et al., 2001, p. 7-13)
Banks, J. A., Cookson, P., Gay, G., Hawley, W. D., Irvine, J. J., Nieto, S., Schofield,
J. W., & Stephan, W. G. (2001). Diversity within unity: Essential principles for
teaching and learning in a multicultural society. Center for Multicultural
Education. Retrieved August 2, 2010, from
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986). Ecology of the family as a context for human development:
Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22, 723-742.
Gorski, P. C. (2010). Multicultural education pavilion: Equity, diversity, and social
justice in education. Retrieved April 6, 2010 from
Hill, P. J. (1991). Multi-culturalism: The crucial philosophical and organizational
issues. Change 23(4), 38-47.
McIntosh, P. (1990). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Independent
School. Retrieved August 2, 2010, from
Pai, Y., Adler, S. A., & Shadiow, L. K. (2006). Cultural foundations of education.
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Wang, A. Y. (2010, Winter). Why Psi Chi needs to sit at the global table. Eye on
Psi Chi , 14(2), 4.
Dr. Kathryn Lee is currently an associate professor in the Department
of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas State University–San Marcos. She has been
in education and the mental health field in Texas for over 25 years. Her experience
as a secondary school teacher, a clinical therapist, and a school counselor for
both elementary and secondary students underpins her basic philosophy that we must
be responsive to individual student needs in the classroom. Her current emphasis
as a teacher educator is preparing preservice and practicing teachers to be empathic
and responsive to all students’ needs, including those who are routinely marginalized
because of their ethnicity, language, gender, socioeconomic status, religious belief,
disability, and/or sexual orientation. Dr. Lee’s primary research interest lies
in investigating instructional strategies best suited to meet the educational needs
of an increasingly diverse student population, including adult online learners.
Her research has the added benefit of informing and improving her own teaching practice
while representing what she believes is a valuable contribution to the field.
Author Note. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kathryn
Lee, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, Texas State University-San Marcos,
601 University Dr., San Marcos, TX 78666. E-mail: KL10@txstate.edu.
Winter 2011 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 15, No. 2, p. 22), published
by Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright,
2010, Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.