Culture Isn’t Just a Consumer Issue

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Cultural competence is an approach to delivering services, such as instructional services, that assumes the services are more effective when they are provided within the most relevant and meaningful cultural, gender-sensitive[as opposed to gender-specific] and age- appropriate context for the target audience. In order to so do most effectively, it is important to define and understand what culture and cultural competence really are and how they affect service quality and outcomes.

Broadly defined, culture is a common heritage or set of beliefs, norms and values a group of people share. People who are placed in the same group, through self-identification or census, are often assumed to share the same culture. That assumption is what I term as immaculate perception, because not all who share broad grouping will also share same culture. A great diversity exists between and within each broad category.

Some may identify with a given racial or ethnic culture to varying degrees, while others may identify with multiple cultures. Examples include religion, professions, sexual orientation or disability. Essentially this describes each one of us. Culture is dynamic, ever-changing, depending upon beliefs and environmental demands.

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No one person can speak for an entire group, race, ethnicity, religion, etc…. Belonging o a broad cultural group, we also belong to and adopt values and norms of varying sub-cultures or cultures within a broader culture. Family has a culture, schools have a culture, and no two are exactly alike although they may belong to some broader category of groups. No two families are alike and neither are any two schools.

It is imperative that this be understood in the classroom. When instructional content explores the lives and experiences of African-Americans or Latin@ populations, you may look out into the group of students and recognize a black child. Do not, repeat, do not ask the child to speak for or represent the entire racial, ethnic or regional group. That is disrespectful and demonstrates an absence of sufficient cultural competence.

The only perspective that should be desired is one from an individual or familial level. Questions such as these:

“How do Hispanic families feel about…?” or ” Do African-American families all believe that….?”or ” Do Islamic faith believers all….?”……

…may represent a sincere desire for information, knowledge and enlightenment. Questions such as these may be an honest attempt to engage a student whom we know belongs to a broad category of ‘different’. These types of questions also represent the need for personal and cultural reflection.

We must reflect and examine our own cultural beliefs and biases, and constantly purpose to educate ourselves about ourselves and the groups we serve. We must delve deeper still. There must be an honest examination of the nature of the services we provide in terms of relevance. The complexities of culture and cultural influences also necessitate an individualized, not standardized, approach to engaging with diversity. Understanding culture and cultural identity in the context of education, implies and assumes a respectfully responsive approach to instruction, engagement, assessments and discipline. Mental health services are best when approached from a more individualized view of consumers, framework of practices and  interventions tailored to support comprehensive wellness.

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It’s easy to think that culture belongs to only the consumer or the populations we serve or students we teach. Culture also applies to providers, educators and administrators. Professional culture influences how we organize, plan and deliver services. The school curriculum is designed to provide useful  knowledge with core relevance. It works as the vehicle that drives methodology, strategies, instructional design, supplemental materials, communication and focused content.

The responsive delivery of instruction is always dependent upon the  diversity of learners, and related strategies are to be informed by individual and collective cultural influences. Some cultural influences are more obvious than others-such as the manner with which practitioners and educators ask questions or how they interact with consumers and learners. Issues such as school or agency hours, the degree of importance attached to outreach with families and community members, and the respect given to the culture of the populations served.

For decades, mental health providers neglected to recognize the growing diversity around them. Persons from non-majority groups found programs offered off-putting, difficult to access, and non-responsive. Thus, avoidance began [parallel to parents of color’s reluctance to engage with schools]; they’d stop seeking care or dropped out[schools, too]. Disparities emerged widely, wherein ‘minority’ groups were found to have  lower access to care, lower use of care and also poorer quality of care[ also parallel to schools and quality of education in culturally diverse or minority communities].

Cultural competence as a guiding construct for behaviors, attitudes and policies attempts to equip professionals with the mindfulness necessary to work effectively across cultures and meet the needs of the populations they serve. Every provider, practitioner, or administrator involved in delivering services, from mental health to education, bears the responsibility  to make programs[and instruction] accessible, appropriate, appealing and effective for the diverse communities served. It is everyone’s responsibility to be respectful of ‘different’. Culture is not just a consumer issue! It CAN influence ALL we do— to, for and with others!










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