It is no secret that the United States’ population is becoming increasingly diverse. The enlarged diversity of the United States’ population is an important aspect, especially in the realms of developing culturally responsive pre-service professionals.
Springfield College, known for its Humanics philosophy, is approaching this change in the United States positively. Professors at Springfield College, like Dr. Jennifer Stratton, see cultural diversity as an asset in the professional world. As a teacher of multicultural education, Stratton is responsible for educating a variety of students about cultural diversity and what it means to adhere to culturally responsive pedagogy in their respected future professions.
When entering Stratton’s class, there is a sense of tenseness and hostility. The apprehensiveness does not stem from Stratton herself, as she is a petite woman with a heartwarming personality, but rather the title and introduction of the class.
Often times, Stratton begins the class as many professors do; she introduces topics that will be discussed over the course of the semester, yet the topics of multicultural education are not textbook related like most college students are accustomed to. They are related to the world and the society which the students currently live in.
Race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation are just a few topics for discussion in Stratton’s class. While some professors at Springfield College tread lightly when it comes to such controversial topics, Stratton dives in deep.
There are no textbooks to teach multicultural education. Books are available, but none that educate students quite in the way that Stratton does. Her style of teaching is completely driven by personal experiences. More importantly, her personal experiences are often mistakes she shares, ones which she made as a young educator teaching in Boston.
“[One of my students] was part of the MECO program and I was so focused on saving her that I did not recognize all the amazing resources that she brought to my classroom and that her family was able to provide for her as well,” Stratton said. “So I think that’s probably where I just shake my head and think, all I saw was her skin color. All I saw was her socioeconomic status when I was actually pretending I wasn’t.”
Stratton often shares this story during the socioeconomic status unit and admits that it was her, “lack of awareness at that point, when I thought I was being culturally aware.”
Mistakes such as this one increased her personal interest in multicultural education. In addition, students often feel a connection to Stratton’s good intentions to help her students.
The idea of being culturally responsive relates to being culturally aware. Many students believe that being culturally aware simply means to realize that there are other cultures outside of their own. While that is true, culturally responsiveness is much more in depth.
The easiest way to demonstrate what it means to be culturally responsive is through examples.
An example of a medical professional who possesses cultural responsiveness would be to acknowledge that his or her patient’s religion might prohibit him or her from taking medicine. It would be the medical professional’s responsibility to simply ask the patient if they are comfortable with taking medication.
When the patient replies “no,” it is then the responsibility of the medical professional to try to find an alternate treatment, as opposed to prescribing medication despite the patient’s wishes.
Another example could be a teacher who acknowledges that students in his or her classroom may not have traditional family constructs. More specifically, members of the classroom could live with guardians or only with one parent instead of a mother and a father. It would then be disrespectful to consistently be using the words parents or mom and dad when discussing things that need to be sent home.
While the only examples provided are from a medical profession and the field of education, Stratton’s teaching practices allow students to develop their own understanding of how they will each become culturally responsive. She understands that the educational journey of being culturally responsive is entirely personal and individual at that. Although her class is not built around only education majors, Stratton calls all of her students educators for an enlightening reason.
“I always use the term educator for everyone,” explained Stratton. “I think the term educator refers to anyone out working in society. In teaching, it’s easy because we’re doing it, but we are all educators, so when you use that, it makes it easier for them to apply multicultural education to their field. I always call my Criminal Justice students the ‘educators of the streets’ because we all have the responsibility of educating others about what’s important.”
The importance of such a class is to educate students about social issues. The issues that students always hear about, and want to talk about, but never know how to. Multicultural education provides an outlet for students to speak their mind and become involved and engrossed in problems related to the society they live in. It is not always easy to discuss issues like race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation, but they are real issues and if no one talks about what is unjust, our society will not change.
Even Stratton knows that while she touches the lives of hundreds of students each year, one multicultural education class isn’t the answer for everything.
“The question is, ‘How can we be as culturally relevant as possible in the various fields and weave that into all of our courses?’Stratton pondered.
The idea of weaving a multicultural education layer into all majors at Springfield College is certainly a respectable one.
After being a part of such a rich learning experience, student engagement with cultural responsiveness should not end. It is an ongoing and conscious endeavor that requires individuals who have received some training in multicultural education and to train others who have not had the privilege of gaining those cultural experiences.
In order to create awareness outside of the Springfield College community, Stratton suggests discussing societal issues with everyone you know.
“Talking to our family, neighbors, talking to students,” Stratton lists. “We have this circle of influence and if I use that to the best of my ability, then those people can use their circle of influence to the best of their ability. Then, I believe we could cover the nation [in awareness] pretty quickly.”
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