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Three Ways to Ensure Cultural Competency in 21st Century and Why it Even Matters

This past week I had the pleasure of being re-introduced to Dr. Steven Jones by our Head of Lower School, Sandy Stuart Shaller (Sandy introduced me to Dr. Jones the first time back in 2009 at the NAIS People of Color Conference in Denver) at a workshop called Cultural Competency in the 21st Century.

To say that Sandy struggled to make this event happen is an understatement. Dr. Jones, a noted consultant on diversity, is highly sought after by both corporate and educational arenas making it really difficult to get him on the calendar. Mother Nature had her say too with logistics presenting an ominous winter storm that cancelled out what was finally on the calendar. But, the most provoking challenge of all was the relative lack of engagement on this concept within the community. The entire community should have been there.

In our independent schools we may be part of a majority, not necessarily seeing ourselves as a member of a group but rather an individual because the culture of our systems are designed with us in mind, therefore we are the norm. Why should the norm consider anything outside of itself? I happen to be right handed and benefit from a system that caters to my dexterity. Hey, what can I say, I was born that way.

Because I am right handed I never have to consider that I can’t see the logo on a coffee cup; question how I will attempt to learn to play golf; accidently bump into the door as I open it; I don’t even have to think as I pick up the can opener to open a can of tuna. A matter of fact, you would be cramping my style, you Lefties, if you draw any attention to my privilege. I mean really, what do you want me to do about it, I am quite comfortable.

Moving into the 21st century means competing on a global level so we might as well start gaining some competencies in our immediate communities.

1. Ask your child what are the ways that their peers are putting each other down. The “isms” have morphed. Is it really bullying or homophobia, racism, sexism, or oppression? You may have to ask this question over time in a proactive setting (not after something has happened) to get an authentic answer.

2. Identifying who you are, how you fit in, and the benefits you receive because of it is a start. We all experience privilege on some level. To avoid identifying and discussing differences, whether it is gender, race, culture, socio-economics, religion, or anything else that is considered “other” can be costly in lower, middle, upper school, higher education, especially the work force.

3. Engage in discussing differences. Who are you? This question or consideration cultivates skills of engagement. If your child points at someone in a wheel chair, don’t hush them. It is not politically incorrect to want to understand or learn about that individual. Perhaps, better engagement skills need to be employed that can lead to a conversation about it. You may consider including the person in the wheel chair in the conversation…they know you are thinking about it and may want to share their experience helping your child, and maybe even us as adults shift our paradigm of what a normal experience is.

Our children are developing in communities that are larger, that look different, and values a variety of guiding principles and practices.

News flash…what we see as normal may not support our or our children’s success and development in a global economy. Why not ask someone in your school community out for coffee and engage. If our children see us engaging difference they will too.

Thank you Sandy Shaller (we’ll miss you!) and Dr. Steven Jones. I am ready to put my new skills to work!

About the Contributor: Gina Parker Collins, Founder & President of RIISE, is a regular contributor to the NYC Private Schools Blog in the area of diversity.

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