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Oakland University Instructor offers cultural competency tips

Wed Jun 24, 2020 at 01:56 PM

Holly Walker-Coté, a special lecturer of Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages, focuses her work in cultural competency. She said the students at OU are of a generation that embraces diversity, and she provided a list of five things instructors can do to embrace diversity in their classes--whether online or face-to-face. 

  • Look at your course curriculum. 

“I teach Spanish. It would be easy for me to say ‘we’re only going to read things from Spain,’” said Walker-Coté. “However, there are indigenous cultures, African heritage and a variety of European groups depending upon where you go in Latin America and Spain, so including all of those is important.”

She said through her work, she can reach all of her students and speak to their own cultural identities. Through the work she brings to the classroom throughout the semester, she can discuss the injustice of the slave trade and colonization of the Americas through lessons about Latin America. 

  • Try to create a representational balance in your course. 

“I think we really need to be looking at what we are teaching, who wrote it, what researchers were involved and look beyond ethnicities besides our own. We’re responsible for making sure we are balancing our information,” said Walker-Coté. 

Walker-Coté said over time, the American education, media and behavior has centered around the white narrative, but it really needs to represent the entire student body. 

“As educators, we know that students retain information better when they can relate to it, so it stands to reason that we would include as much variety in our content as possible in an effort to reach the varied interests and experiences of our students. Are there researchers or authors in your field who belong to underrepresented minority groups? Females? LGBTQ?” said Walker-Coté. 

  • Examine your own biases as an instructor.

“It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone – which is human nature. But we don’t learn in our comfort zone – that is not where growth takes place,” said Walker-Coté. “When we are entrusted to teach students of all walks, we should work toward being effective at inclusive teaching practices.”

Walker-Coté said faculty are natural learners and researchers and should be reading, learning and improving. 

“Our personal values are reflected in how we treat people and students read our behavior. If we have negative feelings about a person or group, it is worth asking ourselves why and conducting some introspective investigation into our reasons,” said Walker-Coté. 

  • Create an open forum within the class for students to express themselves

Walker-Coté said it’s well documented that female professors do more “emotional labor” in supporting students on campus than males. 

“What I mean is that students tend to come to female professors more often to talk about personal matters. And faculty of color are even more likely to have an emotional burden to carry on campus. Higher education is still lacking in diversity, so there are few Black, Latinx, or indigenous faculty and administrators available to students,” said Walker-Coté. She said if professors work to become more culturally competent, it will help create a more supportive environment for not only students, but also faculty and administrators.

  • Support colleagues and campus employees that are people of color 

Walker-Coté said faculty need to be sensitive to the needs of their own. 

“Read, listen and educate yourself. We should not rely on our colleagues, who are already traumatized by events that are in the news, to help us manage our response. Apologizing for what is happening is without merit unless accompanied by a change in behavior,” said Walker-Coté. She said when it comes to Black Lives Matter, an apology doesn’t change 400 years of history, but learning, listening and reading will lead to change that matters. 

Walker-Coté said it’s important for departments and sections to consider ways to take action. 

“Each of us has an opportunity in this moment to make things better for those around us. It’s time to get to work,” said Walker-Coté.