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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2011

Eye on Psi Chi

Winter 2011 | Volume 15 | Issue 2


Exploring Cultural Diversity

Dr. Kathryn Lee, PhD,
Texas State University-San Marcos

View this issue in Digital and PDF formats.

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:

» 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.

» 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 language groups.

» 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)

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 cultural competence.

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.


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 Link

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:

Copyright 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 2) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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