Tina McNamara, Multicultural Concerns Commission Chair
The Marquette University School of Education prepares teachers for urban classrooms. As the School’s Director of Undergraduate Advising, I occasionally hear complaints from beginning students (who, as a group, are predominantly Caucasian) about what they consider to be the disproportionate focus on diversity issues within their Education courses.“I’m not a racist!” each student invariably proclaims. They report that the recurring discussion about white privilege and social justice makes them feel uncomfortable. “Good!” I think to myself. “Here’s the opening for a serious teachable moment.” I feel prepared to talk with these students about the program’s goals. We discuss the importance of recognizing ourselves as cultural beings and how biases aren’t always apparent intellectually but can manifest themselves in practice.
I feel less prepared, however, to talk with those students, close to completing our program, who voice similar concerns when they want me to suggest a “good school” for student teaching, or when they want to know whether a particular school is in a “good neighborhood.” How can students who have successfully completed the majority of our curriculum still harbor such concerns?
Jacqueline Jordan Irvine (2003), in Educating Teachers for Diversity, suggests that the problem may be with the curriculum. She believes in the old cliché “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and cites a study in which the researcher found “that Texas teachers who had some multicultural course work were still unprepared to teach culturally diverse students. Consequently, inadequate or cursory knowledge can lead to more, not less, hostility and stereotyping toward culturally different students” (16). Jordan goes on to argue that providing only a smattering of information about multicultural issues “ignores developmental aspects of cross-cultural competence that require time for preservice teachers (many of them young adults) to grapple with, reflect upon, and assimilate complicated issues associated with their own personal, social, cultural, and ethnic identities” (17). However, if the problem were largely with the curriculum, I think there would be more students who have not internalized the messages about multiculturalism. Thankfully, the number of students who “don’t get it” is few.
In Conversations About Being a Teacher, McGuire’s (2005) character, Tonya, discusses what she refers to as the “Teacher Effectiveness Awareness Stretch Model” for multicultural education. Teacher education students, she argues, move through the following stages: Unaware, Aware, Acceptance, Understanding, and Appreciation (51-53). In the first stage, Unaware, students don’t know much about how to be an effective teacher. They move to Aware once they begin to notice cultural differences and realize they should “try to do something” (52). Acceptance comes from reflection on differences and respect for others’ rights to be different as well as recognizing the need for change (52). Understanding requires students to read, interact, and take risks (54). The last stage, Appreciation, includes being able to “relate to others based on how you are similar” and being sure to “listen and respect each student’s right to speak and be heard” (54-55). Perhaps then, the students seeking the “good neighborhood” may not have “stretched” enough. So, how can I, as an advisor, help these students move on?
Cornett-DeVito and Reeves (1999) suggest that there are “two central ways that academic advisors can prepare all students for success in a multicultural world” (35). They believe that advisors should to be “fully aware of the academic and extracurricular opportunities available to students” that can help broaden their experiences (35). Also, they suggest that advisors should “model competent intercultural communication” skills themselves (35). Certainly, these are important ways to assist students who may be resistant to exploring multicultural issues. These suggestions, however, do not address the needs of students who have already participated in multiple experiences and have worked with culturally sensitive advisors and faculty.
What can an advisor to do to help these students? Unfortunately, not much has been written about this particular dilemma. Perhaps our best answer lies in continuing to employ developmental advising. Students need to be challenged about their comments. They need assistance in looking at how their attitudes affect their career goals, and they need someone who is willing to listen without judging them. While change for these students may not come as quickly as I would like, I remain confident that they will be lifelong learners who will eventually “stretch.”
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).
Cunningham, L. (2003). Multicultural awareness issues for academic advisors. Academic Advising Today 27 (1). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/ePub/AAT27-1.htm
Elhoweris, H. & Parameswaran, G., & Negmeldin, A. (2004). College Students’ Myths About Diversity and What College Faculty Can Do. Mulitcultural Education, Winter 2004. Vol. 12, Iss. 2.
Irvine, J. (2003). Educating Teachers for Diversity: Seeing with a Cultural Eye. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
McGuire, J. (2005). Conversations about Being a Teacher. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.
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.
Cite this article using APA style as: McNamara, T. (2006, February). What if they still don't get it? Academic Advising Today, 29(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]