Dealing with Diversity
by Marilyn Spaventa and Doug
"We donít see things as they are, we
see things as we are."
- Anais Nin
colleges are unique in providing the opportunity to almost everyone
in our society to pursue goals in higher education. In most community
colleges you will find students from:
- Many different ethnic
- Ages ranging from
18 to more than 80 - including re-entry students
- Various linguistic
- Different economic
- Different genders
and gender orientation
- Married as well as
single lifestyles, including many single parents
- Different learning
styles and disabilities.
student brings to your campus special talents and perspectives, as
well as challenges and needs. This diversity tremendously enriches
the educational environment. If variety is truly the spice of life,
our educational environment is quite hot!
Multicultural Community College
of the United States is increasingly multicultural, so naturally the
student population of community colleges is also growing in diversity.
Most community colleges include international students as well as
recent immigrants and multigenerational citizens. The variety of students
is apparent; as Fredick Erickson put it in Multicultural Education,
"Everybody is cultural . . . (and) everybody is multicultural."
But what exactly do we mean when we say they have a different
culture? The most common use of the term refers to different
ethnic or national backgrounds such as Italian, Japanese, or Canadian.
This is often referred to as a "macro" culture; however,
this is only the tip of the iceberg of cultural diversity.
If we define culture as
a group of shared values, beliefs and attitudes, then we can see how
important other factors become in defining our culture. Anyone
who has traveled extensively in the U.S. would agree that people are
quite different in the various regions of the country even though they
all identify themselves as Americans. A blue-collar definition
of culture might be "the way things are done around here."
Using that definition, it is easy to see why Midwesterners have their
own culture, as do Southerners and those who grew up and live in New
England or some other region. James
A. Banks defines culture as "not artifacts, tools, or other tangible
cultural elements, but how members of a group interpret, use, and perceive
them."(Multicultural Education, p8)
Culture is a social construct,
and as such, it is always changing and being changed by the social environment.
Where you grew up, what religion or philosophy your family practiced,
what types of schools you attended, what language you spoke at home,
who your friends were, and whether your cultural group was a considered
a minority or discriminated against, all have an impact in determining
your personal/familial "micro"culture. Also, many Americans
change their situations or locations during their lives, which adds
more layers to their own personal culture. For example, an American
(of European descent) who moves to Hawaii may significantly alter his/her
attitudes and values based on Hawaii's Asian-influenced cultural atmosphere.
Since culture is a social phenomenon rather than physiological, we can
see that race may not define your cultural identity any more than these
More than multicultural
Other important factors in
determining a person's cultural identity are sex and economic status.
Women in every culture share the same general set of values as the men
in that culture, but often their priorities for those values are different.
For example, women almost always rank the value of the family at a higher
priority than men, who tend to place a higher value on work. This
is why Dr. Hsu, professor emeritus UC Berkeley says, "Every marriage
is an intercultural experience!"
Economic status probably
has the biggest effect on our perceptions of the world around us.
Such concepts as social emphasis, use of language, driving forces and
world view are shaped by our economic background. Appreciation of education
is another idea affected by economic status. Those from higher
socio-economic classes view education as an opportunity to making and
maintaining connections; those from the middle class see education as
crucial for climbing the ladder of success; while those from the lower
classes value and revere education abstractly, but often think of it
as unobtainable due to the necessity to work as soon and as long as
possible (Hidden Rules Among Classes). Many community
college students come from the lower economic classes and are often
the very first in their families to attend college.
In this module you will have
the opportunity to learn more about different kinds of students and
the services available to you and your students. I also hope that
you will have the opportunity to examine your teaching style and reflect
upon how you may or may not be teaching effectively to your diverse
I hope you will pay special
- support services and
resources available for re-entry students, disabled students and
second language students
- learn about the special
requirements for international students
- identify several linguistic
and cultural challenges for second language speakers
- examine your teaching
style and reflect on how effective it is for a diverse student
college students have at least one thing in common: they are very
busy and, like us, must balance the demands of life and study. Yet
each is an individual with her or his unique background, individual
reasons for being on campus, and goals for the future. As we try to
support our students to overcome obstacles and make the most of this
educational opportunity, it may help to understand the diversity on
Students who come from diverse ethnic backgrounds bring different
perspectives to classroom discussions. Not only does this diversity
provide the opportunity to learn about different ways of viewing
the world, but it also provides the opportunity for students to
examine their own beliefs, which may not be explored in a more homogenous
To be admitted to
most community colleges, international students must be high school
graduates with above average demonstrated achievement and adequate
financial resources to study and live in the United States without
working. These students are required to maintain standards set
by the INS as well as their host college.
Students (22 - more than 80)
There are many older students who return to college to restart or
complete their education. Some may enter with confidence and smoothly
navigate through their courses. Others may feel insecure and need
assistance from Career Development Center or Re-entry Program. Some
of these students may also be eligible for support from financial
aid programs such as EOPS and CARE. These students bring experience
and a world-view that can be extremely enriching to recent high
school graduates who have never had the opportunity to work side
by side in an academic setting with people from different generations.
- Students with Disabilties
The Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) Department provides
educational and vocational support services for students with disabilities
who are enrolled in college classes. Disabled students and disabled
student programs are discussed in depth in the next Read Section.
- Students enrolled in
English as a Second Language
As a faculty member,
you may notice some or many of the students in your classes do not
speak, read or write English as their first language. While we often
refer to these students as English as a Second Language Students
(ESL students), this may not be accurate. In fact, for many students,
English is a third or fourth language.
The ESL faculty offers
instruction for students of ESL. Students can enroll in a full-time
course of study (12 units) by enrolling in a grammar, reading and
writing at the appropriate levels, as determined by an assessment
ESL Students: Resident ESL students have permanent resident
status and are generally older than the majority of community college
students. Preparation in L1 (first language) varies widely from
students who have only studied in elementary school to students
who already hold undergraduate or graduate degrees from their countries.
Most resident ESL students work at least part-time. Many work full-time
and are parents.
In many communities, non-credit ESL programs offered through adult
education are available in addition to, or in place of, community
Resident ESL Students: Community colleges admit international
students who come to the United States on a student visa (F1 visa).
In community colleges, international student enrollment is limited
by policy set by the Board of Trustees. Some colleges actively recruit
FI visa students because their states allow higher fees for these
students; others do not offer special services. These students often
use a different application process and pay international student
fees. Most are placed into the intermediate and advanced levels
of ESL courses and have the intention of continuing their studies
as transfering graduates. Because they may pay higher tuition and
have limitations on the length of time they can stay in this country,
many of these students feel a great deal of pressure to complete
the programs and enroll in classes in their major as quickly as
What does this mean for
Coming to a community college
is experiencing a new culture for many of our students. Here
they will interface with many different types of people who will have
different backgrounds and values. This exposure to different
ideas and values causes an adjustment reaction, which is often called
There are three stages
of culture shock:
First, the differences seem interesting or charming. This
is often referred to as the "honeymoon"stage. It
is the reason why we all like to go to some new place on vacation
- but if we stay too long, things change.
Since it is more work to deal with people who are different from
you, eventually a feeling of "Is this really worth it?"sets
in and can develop into rejection of all that seemed so charming
and interesting before. It is at this point that some students
will give up and drop out. Teachers may think, "I've
done enough for that student. I can/will do no more."
Finally, some measure of comfort and understanding will be developed.
This doesn’t mean that the student or teacher feels full adjustment
has been achieved. There will still be times when things are
frustrating and overwhelming. Understanding this adjustment
cycle or culture shock will help us to understand reactions and
interactions in the multicultural classroom.
What does this mean for
the community college faculty member?
It means you must be very
sensitive to cultural cues and not assume anything about your students
based on their appearance. In addition, just because a student "looks
American" and speaks without an accent does not mean that they
have spent their lives in the country. One community college faculty
member was shocked to learn that a very "Americanized" student
had spent five of his 19 years (age 12 - 17) in a Cambodian prison
where they shared a cell with a US educated medical doctor.
You will be faced with
students who might not share your understanding of education, proper
behavior in and out of class, priorities, or their vision of the future.
New faculty will face an adjustment to the system of the college as
well, so they may experience double culture shock.
It is of vital importance
that we be sensitive to these cultural differences and try to bridge
the gap between the two points of view. Even professionals in
the fields of intercultural communication and multicultural education
cannot learn all the enormous volume of knowledge about various cultures.
Just being aware and sensitive to this vital factor and learning as
we go are the best we can do. This is what education is all
about, sharing new information and viewpoints with others and synthesizing
that with our own experiences. As experienced teachers know,
we learn as much from our students as we give them. If the 'gap'
between differing approaches and understanding cannot be overcome,
no real learning takes place on either side.
It is often the student
with a unique viewpoint who can help us as teachers expand and deepen
our own understanding of our subject. Of course we need to uphold
standards and introduce our students to the expectations of academic
work, but too often we use that as an excuse to be less than open
and receptive to what our diverse students are bringing to our classrooms.
Being culturally sensitive is not easy, but it is now required in
modern American society. Remember, we teach best when we model
the behaviors that we want to instill in our students. Good