Cornelius K. Gilbert , University of Wisconsin
One of the most perplexing issues encountered on today’s college campus colleges is how to adequately serve a diverse student body. The requirement to effectively meet the needs of students from diverse backgrounds surfaced during the civil rights movement (or Freedom Struggle and ethnic movements) of the 1960s and 1970s, as predominately white campuses across the country became increasingly more integrated. Challenges raised during that time continue to face us today.
Over the past forty years, campus administrators and practitioners have put forth efforts to meet the needs and concerns of students of color. Efforts have included diversity or multicultural “training” – principally for white professionals – to become better informed about diverse cultures, experiences, and histories that exist among their changing student populations.
The traditional narrative of multiculturalism in higher education has focused on providing adequate cross-cultural services at predominately white institutions of higher learning; today this phenomenon is not limited to predominately white institutions. Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are experiencing the same trends of increased “minority enrollment” and the need to provide effective cross-cultural services. The U.S. Department of Education reported that white enrollment at HBCUs over the past twenty-five years has jumped from 21,000 to 35,000, a percentage spike of 65 percent (Blitzer, 2000). At some schools, such as Bluefield State, Virginia State and Lincoln University, student bodies have just about transformed from all Black to overwhelmingly White.
As America ’s ethnic and racial demographics continue to shift, not only on college campuses but throughout the nation, it is essential that administrators and practitioners prepare to effectively deliver cross-cultural services. Professionals of all ethnic and racial backgrounds need to gain multicultural awareness and multicultural competency.
We begin to establish multicultural competence when we become self-aware – when we establish a racial consciousness of our own – thereby becoming able to view ourselves as racial beings (Carter, 1995; Pope & Mueller, 2000, p. 133). Research shows that improvements can be made to better relate to students – therefore better serve them – if professionals are aware of their racial identity (Mueller, 1999; Mueller & Pope, 2000, p. 133). When self-awareness or a racial consciousness is established, regardless of racial or ethnic background, a heightened sensitivity and awareness occurs toward the issues minority students experience and voice. As a result, we are in a better position to deliver enhanced cross-cultural services.
Perhaps even more critical is that, as a result of these efforts, professionals become more receptive to their students’ experiences. Such awareness serves to facilitate a move from mere multicultural tolerance to appreciation, inclusion, and an increased understanding of students’ experiences. This is particularly true in academic advising.
Consider how academic advisors support students as they explore the reasons they are in school, assess their interests and talents, and integrate into the campus community. Habley (1981) noted that academic advising is instrumental in the fight against student attrition when he said that “academic advising is the only structured service on the campus in which all students have the opportunity for on-going, one-to-one contact with a concerned representative of the institution.”
Delivery of important services such as academic advising must be executed in a genuinely caring, understanding, knowledgeable, yet direct and honest method. The amount of cross-cultural interaction that occurs during advising makes the preparation of academic advisors critical to institutional success.
The preparation we receive should require a highly collaborative and interactive self-awareness and include a racial consciousness component that allows us to gain an awareness of our beliefs and attitudes as they pertain to multiculturalism. This exploration provides an opportunity to to check biases and stereotypes that can affect our delivery of adequate cross-cultural service. Becoming aware of our values and biases is a move toward positive orientation of multiculturalism (Sue, et. al, p. 633).
As we grasp our attitudes and beliefs, the next step in the multicultural competency process is acquiring knowledge. Knowledge and understanding of our the professionals’ heritage and worldview(s), as well as knowledge of the multicultural groups we they work with and their sociopolitical influences, serves to improve cross-cultural services (Sue, et. al, p.633).
Lastly, intervention techniques and strategies must be incorporated into the preparation for all professionals who work cross-culturally. Intervention technique education helps develop multicultural competency as a lifestyle. The preparation should constantly question/challenge professionals. Examples of questions that advisors should address include:
- How have you benefited from your racial or ethnic status?
- How are you seeking to broaden your experiences and knowledge of different multicultural groups?
- Have you considered what it may feel like to be ‘the only’ in a rather large setting?
- Do you know how it feels to be ‘appointed’ the representative of your race because you are ‘the only’ in a setting?
- How are you going to continue to understand yourself as a racial or ethnic being in society?
- Are you consistently seeking knowledge about multicultural affairs?
As education professionals, we become better equipped to serve when we take a hard look in the mirror and acknowledge ourselves as cultural beings. The more we are aware of our biases and cultural influences, the better we are able to serve and therefore create more sensitive multicultural campuses through better programs and better policies (Mueller & Pope, 2001, p. 7).
Cornelius K. Gilbert
University of Wisconsin
Author would like to thank psychologist Dr. Jeffery S. Hird, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Counseling and Consultation Services, for his knowledge, input, and support.
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Cite this article using APA style as: Gilbert, C. (2005, September). Improving academic advisor preparation through cultural awareness. Academic Advising Today, 28(3). [insert url here]