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Voices of the Global Community


Multicultural Awareness Issues for Academic Advisors

Leigh Cunningham, Kansas State University

Leigh Cunningham.jpgMulticultural awareness is essential for academic advisors, for our cultural identity "is central to what we see, how we make sense of what we see, and how we express ourselves" (DuPraw & Axner, 1997). Lack of understanding about what constitutes cultural identity, and how we are affected by the various aspects of our world view, can be a source of conflict and a great hindrance in the development of productive relationships. As DuPraw and Axner (1997) note, "oftentimes we aren't aware that culture is acting upon us. Sometimes we are not even aware that we have cultural values or assumptions that are different from others!"

There are two guiding principles that we must keep in mind: (1) cultural identity is made up of a myriad of aspects, and (2) while we can learn something from generalizations about cultures, we must not allow these generalizations to cause us to stereotype or over-simplify our ideas about others. It is crucial that we preface any discussion of diversity issues with firm declarations that ALL people have cultural identity and that we value ALL forms of diversity, whether they be majority or minority. One of the most disturbing recent trends has been the equation of the terms 'multicultural' and 'diversity' with ethnic/racial minority status.

Three major issues must be addressed in this discussion:

  1. Race and ethnicity are only two of the many identity factors that contribute to our world view. Some others are gender, socioeconomic status, level of acculturation to majority norms, geographic region of origin, level of mobility (both physical and geographic), sexual orientation, educational achievement, speech patterns, family structure, religious beliefs, age cohort, health status, varieties of 'challenges' and 'ableness,' and various types of life experience.
  2. Recognized racial/ethnic groups in the United States are rarely - if ever - homogenous, and in-group distinctiveness may be as prominent as differences between groups. As noted by Brown and Rivas (1995), "all ethnic groups within our country are an aggregation of many distinct subgroups." Americans from every currently recognized racial/ethnic group "represent a majestic array of diversity" that MUST NOT "be described in generic terms" (Priest & McPhee, 2000, 106).
  3. Ethnic identity is not restricted to minority groups; majority-group members also have ethnicity.

We must not make the mistake of thinking that we know much of anything about anyone simply because we are aware of their racial or ethnic classification! As Brown and Rivas (1995) caution, "advisors must approach the first advising session with few preconceived notions about the student."

In recent years, many people have discussed the 'characteristics' of umbrella-labeled groups they considered representative of various aspects of diversity. While no doubt the intention has been to increase sensitivity and ability to communicate, in all too many cases what has actually been accomplished is a delineation of new sets of stereotypical expectations - or reinforcement of old ones - that inappropriately color expectations and decrease clarity in communication. In the area of race/ethnicity, for example, the most common umbrella-terms used are African-American, Asian-American, European-American, Native American, and Hispanic/Latino - even though research tells us that most people oppose being classified in this way. Other divisions of this kind are also used, such as discussions of the 'common characteristics' of members of American generational cohorts, known by terms such as the 'Silent Generation,' the 'Baby-Boomers,' and the 'Gen-Xers.' If we create these sorts of categorical expectations, then we are in danger of viewing behavior through these preconceived 'filters.'

Rather than focusing on characteristics of specific populations, a better approach is learning to look beyond specific behaviors in order to discover intent, because similar behaviors can serve dissimilar functions (and different behaviors serve similar ones) in different settings. For instance, it is important to know that, in some contexts, respect is shown through the maintenance of eye contact, while in others direct eye contact is viewed as a signal of disrespect, challenge, or sexual invitation. It may also be crucial to be aware that, in some cultural contexts, eating all of the food on one's plate is viewed as a compliment to the preparer (and, conversely, not doing so may be perceived as a great insult), while in others it is viewed as poor manners and low-class status. Rather than focusing on the particular culture involved, or even on the level of eye contact or the amount of food eaten, we need to focus on how we can go about understanding what communication (if any) is intended by these behaviors. (Perhaps my stomach is upset and I am afraid I will become ill if I eat any more; thus, how much I eat has nothing to do with either appreciation or manners!)

For the past five years, I have taught a course in cultural awareness using this approach, and one of the most common end-of-class responses I have gotten is, "I took this course thinking I would learn about behaviors that make us different, but instead I learned about how we can begin to connect with one another." We need to begin by recognizing that each of us views the world through the lens of our own ethnocentricity; and then we need to learn strategies for recognizing our lenses and moving beyond them. We need to understand that all cultural behavior is learned and that all of us have the natural tendency to judge the behavior of others in accordance with our own experiences. While we might like to think otherwise, all of us are ethnocentric, at least to some degree, both by nature and training. This is not necessarily always a 'bad' thing, since a certain amount of love for one's own culture is necessary to hold societies together; however, anything that is positive (functional) at a certain level can become negative (dysfunctional) when we take it too far, as frequently happens. We can, however, train ourselves not to judge one culture by the standards of another, and with vigilance, we can maintain (at least for the most part) a stance of cultural relativism.

We need to learn about ways that cultural perspective can differ, such as high-context vs low-context orientations. For example, we should be aware of continuums of time orientation (circular-'loose'/linear-'rigid'), space/tempo (synchronicity-harmony/independence-individuality), type of reasoning that is valued (intuitive-comprehensive/linear-analytical), types of verbal messages used (formal-verbal/informal-non-verbal), societal role expectations (flexible/non-flexible), and interpersonal relationships (collectivist/individualistic). We should identify where our own experience has placed us on each of these continuums and how that placement might cause us to react to people who are at different points. We should seek to identify areas that might be problematic for us, because we are at one end of the continuum and might be more likely to have strong reactions to people coming from the other end. We need to develop good listening skills and learn how to gather information by asking questions in a non-invasive, non-threatening manner.

These are the skills and strategies that best serve advisors for working with students from any background. We must begin by understanding that behaviors and verbalizations can have a variety of meanings and intentions, depending upon context, and we must seek knowledge of what the possibilities may be. Then we must be willing to take the time for introspection and reflection on our own cultural identity, seeking to understand our personal world view. As noted by Cornett-DeVito and Reeves (1999), "advisors cannot merely increase awareness and knowledge about those from other cultures. They must also recognize themselves as cultural creatures and realize that they must first know themselves to appreciate the cultural lenses through which they interpret others" (p. 39). We must be willing to admit that we have biases and stereotypes, and we must seek understanding of what these are and where they come from. We must have the desire to be continually working to look beyond our world view and the dedication to gaining the knowledge and developing the skills that will aid us in doing so. We must recognize that while it will not ever be possible for us to completely erase the effects of our enculturation and experiences - and that it is unlikely, and perhaps even undesirable, that we will ever come to equally value or appreciate every possible means of cultural expression - we can come to the place that we, for the most part, seek to comprehend before we judge, and offer thoughtful, responsive understanding and respect more often than reactive judgment.

Leigh Cunningham
Academic Advisor
Kansas State University


Brown, T. & Rivas, M. (1995). Pluralistic advising: Facilitating the development and achievement of first-year students of color. In M.L. Upcraft & G.L.Kramer (Eds.), First-year academic advising: Patterns in the present, pathways to the future (pp. 121-137). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for the Freshman Year Experience & Students in Transition.

Cornett-DeVito, M.M. & Reeves, K.J. (1999, Spring). Preparing students for success in a multicultural world: Faculty advisement and intercultural communication.NACADA Journal, 19(1). (pp.35-44).

DuPraw, M.E. & Axner, M. (1997). Toward a more perfect union in an age of diversity: Working on common cross-cultural communication challenges. Retrieved September 10, 2003 from http://www.wwcd.org/action/ampu/crosscult.html .

Priest, R. & McPhee, S.A.. (2000). Advising multicultural diversity: The reality of diversity. In V. Gordon, W. Habley and Associates (Ed.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 105-117 ). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Upcraft, M.L. & Stephens, P.S. (2000). Academic advising and today's changing students. In V. Gordon, W. Habley and Associates (Ed.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 73-83 ). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

From the President

Ruth A. Darling, NACADA President

Dear Colleagues:

Happy New Year and best wishes for a fulfilling and healthy 2004. As we begin a new year, it seems appropriate to provide the NACADA community with an update of current initiatives, and a review of the professional development opportunities available throughout the coming year.

Through the dedication and expertise of the Association’s member leaders, and with the assistance of the Executive Office staff, the Association continues to embark on new professional development programs and publishing opportunities. New initiatives being implemented, or in the development stages, include:

  • Assessment Seminar 2004, February 5 & 6: a sell out!
  • A new Association partnership with the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).
  • Discussion with Jossey-Bass regarding a possible book series on academic advising.
  • A partnership with First Year Experience (FYE) to update the 1995 monograph First Year Academic Advising.
  • A partnership with ACT to publish the results of the 6th Survey on Academic Advising.
  • Development of a “Peer Advising” monograph scheduled to be published next winter.
  • Development of an “Advising Transfer Students” monograph.
  • Development of a “Faculty Advisor Workshop” sponsored by the Faculty Advisors Commission.
  • The “Advising Administrator’s Workshop” offered as a pre-conference at each 2004 Regional Conference.
  • Continued investigation of an “Advisor Certification Program.”
  • Continued development of “at-a-distance” professional development opportunities.

These new initiatives supplement NACADA’s successful professional development opportunities that include: Regional Conferences, Summer Institutes, Administrators’ Institute, National Conference, the NACADA Journal,and the electronic newsletter, Academic Advising News. The continuation and expansion of these activities are directed by the emerging strategic plan that guides our association and its leadership in its focus on NACADA’s critical role within higher education.

I look forward to meeting many of you at a Regional Conference this spring. At each conference, a member of the NACADA Board of Directors and an Executive Office staff member will facilitate a roundtable/open discussion session. This session will provide an opportunity for Association members to engage in conversation with NACADA leaders regarding your concerns, needs and questions. Your feedback is important to us!

Finally, please contact the NACADA Executive Office if you have specific questions or concerns.

Best wishes,

Ruth A. Darling

From the Executive Office

Roberta 'Bobbie' Flaherty, NACADA Executive Director

As a means to assess how well this association is meeting the needs of its members, we have initiated a series of three surveys seeking member feedback. The first survey, completed in November and early December 2003, was directed toward persons who had been members for one or more years, while the second survey in December 2003, was completed by new members (less than one year). A third survey, to be completed in late February, will go to individuals who have not renewed their membership.

The results of the first survey from 853 individuals who have been members for over one year are very interesting. Some highlights are:

  • 66% of respondents had been members six or fewer years.
  • 74% reported that their membership dues were paid by their institution or through grant monies.
  • When asked their primary reason for being a member, 44% indicated it was to “keep abreast of current advising issues,” while 34% said it was “for my personal professional development (conferences, institutes, etc.)”
  • In rating member benefits,
    91% said that NACADA sponsored professional development conferences, Institutes, etc. were “important” or “very important” to them as a member.
    82% rated “increasing awareness and recognition of the field in the higher education community” as “important” or “very important”
    73% rated the “NACADA Journal Subscription” as an “important” or “very important” member benefit
    67% said “networking opportunities at conferences and through NACADA sponsored list serves” were “important” or “very important”
    65% selected the electronic communications and the NACADA web site information as “important” or “very important” member benefit
    85% of respondents identified “offering a conference/event within driving distance” or “offering a video conference or teleconference” as the ONE new initiative they would like to see pursued in the next year.
    95% believe NACADA dues are reasonable in relation to the benefits.

A sample of the comments to the question, “What one thing NOT covered above would you like the NACADA Leadership to know regarding your member benefits” were:

  • Need some professional development opportunities delivered at-a-distance
  • Canada members would like more meetings for them in Canada
  • Experienced members want advanced professional development opportunities
  • Advisors need to present at discipline related conferences within higher education
  • Would like the leadership to encourage new leaders from diverse groups within the association
  • Highlight practical advising information resources on the web site
  • Many stated their appreciation for all the association provides, and they expect the high level of services to be maintained and to grow.

We appreciate the ‘experienced’ members who took the time to complete the survey and express their thoughts. We look forward to comparing these results with the responses of our newest members and of those who have not renewed their memberships. These responses and comments will help leaders shape the organization’s future in the Strategic Planning process.

Roberta “Bobbie” Flaherty
NACADA Executive Director

NACADA Research Grants

Preliminary proposals are now being accepted for NACADA Research grants. Proposals received by March 8, 2004 may receive feedback to enhance their submission prior to the June 7, 2004 final deadline. Complete information is available at the NACADA web site.

NACADA has particular interest in soliciting proposals that document the outcomes of different advising models. In addition, submissions are encouraged that are concerned with developing, conducting, and reporting: empirical studies; evaluation or analysis of advising practices, models or systems; development, evaluation or analysis of advising-based theory; studies of the history, evolution and future of the field; empirical research related to the advising process (inter- and intra-personal dimensions); and, qualitative research on advising practices.

Up to five thousand dollars ($5,000) may be awarded to support a single-year proposal. Multiple-year awards may also be awarded. Award winners will be notified by late summer. Funds will be disbursed following the research award winner's submission of the completed NACADA Research Agreement.

To review a list of ten advising topics identified by the NACADA Research Committee as being critical areas of research in advising, please visit the NACADA web site. For a list of those research topics awarded NACADA grants in the past, please visit the NACADA web site.

NACADA / Kansas State University Graduate Certificate in Academic Advising Has a Successful First Semester

The newly initiated NACADA / K-State Partnership with K-State’s Graduate Certificate in Academic Advising had a very successful first semester with over 70 students from across the country and Canada enrolling in and completing the first course,Foundations in Academic Advising. The course, taught byCharlie Nutt, Associate Director of NACADA and Assistant Professor in the K-State Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, had a very diverse student enrollment – faculty members, full-time advisors, administrators, full-time graduate students, and those interested in entering the field of advising. The on-line format proved to be very positive as students were able to gather vast amounts of information from each other about advising programs and initiatives across the country.

January-May semester classes being offered are Foundations of Academic Advising and Multicultural Counseling and Advising. Students may register for these courses through March 15, 2004, understanding that all course work must be completed by the end of the term in May 2004.

For information on application and registration procedures, as well as the course syllabi for these courses, visit the NACADA web site.

NACADA Journal

The NACADA Journal Editors have worked hard to put the Journal back on schedule without skipping any issues. The Editors thank you for your patience and hope you will enjoy the upcoming Journal issues.

NACADA Journal Seeks Editorial Board Members


  • Published in peer-reviewed journals (preference forNACADA Journalpublications)
  • Experience in academic advising
  • Interest and strength in quantitative (experimental or descriptive), qualitative, historical, or philosophical/theoretical research methodology
  • Active membership in NACADA (required)
  • Graduate degree (required)


  • Review manuscripts for significance, appropriateness, research methodology, and quality of writing within 30 days of receipt.
  • Provide constructive feedback to authors for manuscript improvement.
  • Ability to use Microsoft Word and E-mail with attachments.
  • Annual attendance at the Editorial Board meeting held during the NACADA National Conference (Preferred).

Appointment: Editorial Board members serve 3-year terms that begin and end at the National Conference in the fall. An Editorial Board member may serve non-consecutive terms.

Application: Applicants familiar with the field of academic advising who are interested in seeking a position as manuscript reviewer on the Editorial Board should submit an email message to [email protected] stating interest in and rationale for serving as a member of the NACADA Journal Editorial Board. A professional resume prepared in Microsoft Word .doc format should be attached. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis until all positions are filled.

Advising Native Americans in Higher Education

Mark A Bellcourt, Native American and Tribal College Interest Group Past Chair

Native Americans have always valued education and learning, and many are accomplished science and mathematics practitioners (traditional healers, herbalists, astronomers, builders, etc). Even so, it is ironic that today approximately 50% of Native Americans will graduate from high school, and only 17% will attempt college (National Science Foundation, 2000; Pavel, Swisher, & Ward, 1994). There are many cultural and social reasons for these low rates including reservations located in remote areas, a lack of successful Native American role models, English as a second language, and the low socioeconomic status of many Native Americans (Cajete, 2000).

Suspicion of the traditional American education system is very strong among the Native American populations. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Native Americans were forced into separate, but certainly not equal, educational systems. Marr (2004) states that Congress backed a policy establishing schools that promised to make the “Indian population into patriotic and productive members of society” thus supporting a policy of assimilation that called for the systematic and intentional destruction of an entire population. Marr highlights Richard Henry Pratt, a leading proponent of the 'kill the Indian and save the man' philosophy, who opened the first Indian boarding school in 1879. Pratt commissioned ‘before’ pictures, with students in their long braids and regalia, and ‘after’ pictures showing the same students with short hair and military clothing. He thought these pictures would show the country that Indians could be civilized.

Through the 1950s, school policies systematically broke up families, forbade Native languages, banned traditional and spiritual practices, and relocated children to schools far from their homes. Through these actions more than two generations of Native Americans lost their identities in the name of traditional American education (University of Washington Library, 2003). Today’s Native American students are frequently reminded by their parents, grandparents and great grandparents of these atrocities, and are covertly and overtly told not to trust the traditional education system.

The statistics are equally dismal for Native American students in our colleges and universities. Janis Swenson Taylor (Taylor, 1999) reported that “…skin color and appearance, covert and overt racial hostility, lack of respect, stereotyping, loneliness, lack of role models, and lack of institutional support…” impact Native American success in college. She also reported that the students’ reasons for attending college and level of family support are equally important to Native American persistence in college. In many tribes, the sense of community and extended families are very highly valued. Sometimes Native American students must choose to attend college far away from home or to stay on the reservation.

However, the future is looking much brighter for Native Americans. According to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), casinos and other tribal enterprises have enabled a number of tribes to charter colleges in their local communities. In the last 10 years, tribally chartered colleges have increased from 15 to 34 and enrollments have risen from less than 15,000 to more than 34,000 (American Indian Higher Education Consortium, 1999). Tribal colleges have now gained “land grant status” that provides extra federal funds for research and the ground needed for agricultural and natural resource stations and for building campuses. Although many of these newly formed institutions are currently going through the accreditation process, many have completed the process and are becoming credible and legitimate members of the higher education community. A number of these colleges now offer 4-year and advanced degrees directly or through articulation agreements with nearby institutions.

Now that education has come to many of these remote locations and tribal control allows for culturally relevant curriculums, Native Americans are seeking higher education in increasing numbers. If this trend continues, and all evidence suggests that it will, an increasing number of Native American students will be entering our institutions of higher education. As academic advisors, we must be ready to accommodate these students’ needs. It is imperative that we honor their heritage, value their wisdom, and understand their histories. We need to help them transition from reservations and tribal colleges to our cities and traditional institutions. That is why we founded the Native American and Tribal College Interest Group (NATIG) in NACADA.

NATIG is intended to bring together both Native and non-Native American students, advisors, faculty and other student service personnel. The forum created by this group will not only address the needs of Native American students, but will engage the greater advising community in Native American educational issues.

Mark A. Bellcourt
University of Minnesota


American Indian Higher Education Consortium. (1999). Tribal Colleges: An Introduction.

Cajete, G. A. (2000). Native science natural laws of interdependence.

Marr, C.J. (2004). Assimilation Through Education: Indian Boarding Schools in the Pacific Northwest. Retrieved on February 6, 2004 from http://content.lib.washington.edu/aipnw/marr.html

National Science Foundation. (2000). Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. (Rep. No. NSF 00-327).

Pavel, M., Swisher, K., & Ward, M. (1994). Special focus: American Indian and Alaska Native demographic and educational trends. Minorities in Higher Education.

Taylor, J. S. (1999). America`s First People: Factors Which Affect Their Persistence in Higher Education.

Meeting Student Needs in Tough Economic Times

Lynda J. Sukolsky, Seton Hill University

In these economic times, meeting the needs of so many diverse student populations can be a challenge. However I believe there are steps a college or university can take to effectively, and efficiently, provide quality services.

Simple stated, quality service comes from quality people. An institution should seek to hire well-trained individuals to provide quality advising services. Advertising through the NACADA Position announcements for candidates who possess interpersonal and multicultural skills, and knowledge of developmental and career theories, is essential to advising programs staffed by full-time, professional advisors. Faculty based advising programs must provide quality advisor training and development that goes beyond the informational elements of advising to include the conceptual and relational aspects that make a significant difference for students. Examples of successful faculty advisor development programs can be found in Advisor Training: Exemplary Practices in the Development of Advisor Skills.

Secondly, consider developing a freshman seminar course that allows for quality advising in a group setting. First year students need more time to gather and synthesize information about your campus. While a freshman seminar course provides that, when taught by an academic advisor, it can help students make the needed advising connection central to proven retention strategies. An added bonus is that it provides quality advising services in a time efficient way.

Consider utilizing a “peer advising” system. My grant program (TRIO) developed a peer mentoring program to work with our at-risk students. It has proven to be a great opportunity for our at-risk students to have additional support, and the peer mentors talk positively about the services students can access for additional help. I think the same model could work in an advising center. Upperclass students could be peer advisors. They could answer “walk in” general requirement questions and assist students in developing a preliminary schedule. Peer advisors could direct students to appropriate offices or services when asked. Certainly, their duties should be limited, and on-going training must occur, but in a budget conscience office, this type of program could help. Find examples of peer advising programs in recent NACADA Journal articles and in the Clearinghouse and watch for the upcoming Peer Advising monograph next winter.

Utilizing technology is also a good way to reach students in a cost effective way. Most college campuses have web sites, which could contain advising information. Some campuses have an internal system than can be customized to their needs. My campus has a system called Jweb. It is an online course organization system similar to Blackboard . I have set up an advising group, which allows me to email pertinent information to my students and allows them to respond with questions or concerns. I can set up discussion boards and group the students by major, year of school etc., so the information I send is specific to the students needs. Technology can also provide computer based credit checks, a means to distribute newsletters addressing common advising issues, and if a campus has their own television station, information can be posted there.

Intrusive advising with at-risk students is a preferred way to advise at-risk students but can be very time consuming. The establishment of a course for students below the academic standard allows the advisor to meet with these students in a group, work on common themes, provide individual meetings as needed, and is cost effective.

Utilizing people in the surrounding community to connect with students can help extend the advising unit. Recruiting community leaders/workers, especially those from ethnic minorities, to meet with students can be very effective. Additionally, if the college is near a graduate level counseling program, the advising unit could act as an internship site. I have hosted four graduate level counseling students in my office and have found it to be a win-win situation. The graduate student has the opportunity to practice skills and get the “real world” experience needed, and I have an extra pair of hands that allows our office to offer more services. Advisees often relate well to someone closer to their age.

I would add a word of caution, based upon ACT research that shows advisor training, evaluation and reward are the weakest links in advising. I fear that when an advising unit is looking for ways to provide services to various groups without increasing the dollar amount, the extras, such as these components will be the first to go. Ironically, it is with training, evaluation and reward that advisors improve and can provide a higher quality service.

Lynda J. Sukolsky
Academic Counselor
Seton Hill University
(Student in the Kansas State University graduate certificate program in academic advising)


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.