Partnerships across cultural boundaries

Posted on March 4, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Having come to a more thorough, although no where near complete, understanding of how cultural differences can impact students’ academics, social lives, transitions to college, views of themselves and views of other people, I have a new sensitivity to how these differences can also influence partnerships among people. I think that one of the most harmful effects to a group can be the opinion by one or more people that their voices and their issues are not being heard. If others are ignoring a person simply because of their cultural identity the feelings of rejection or unimportance can be even worse and more deeply felt. As such it is important to create group expectations that allow people to speak from their experience, including their cultural affiliations. If student affairs professionals can recognize the major impact identity has on students; we must be equally willing to respect the voices of colleagues who can speak from experience about these issues and experiences.

While I originally thought that simply uniting around a shared mission was enough to negate cultural boundaries, I now realize this is not always the case. People’s cultural affiliations will continue to influence their work, priorities, and goals even after a central mission is decided upon. This is where the concept of appreciative leadership comes  into play: helping people use the strengths they bring to the table to help the group, instead of letting their weaknesses, which could include cultural differences, be viewed in a negative light.

Over the summer I partnered with academic advisors, orientation leaders and other administrators from diverse cultural backgrounds. I had to listen carefully to students and staff from underrepresented groups talk about their experiences on campus and in the community in order to serve new students more effectively. I also had to listen and engage my colleagues in conversations about their cultural identities in order to have a better understanding of where they were coming from and how that may or may not affect their work.

In another example, I worked with staff of the CAMP program to create a learning community for the Fall term. I had to rely on others to help me get a thorough understanding of the unique challenges that CAMP students face as they enter the university. I had some ideas for the class that I thought would help students to both succeed academically and also promote their families continued involvement with their academics. Although I felt confident in my ideas, I ended up running them by my supervisor in order to see if I was on the right track or missing the mark because of my limited knowledge about the students in my course.

Ultimately, I think that respect and humility when I didn’t understand something went a long way in making these partnerships across cultural boundaries successful.


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