Food for Multicultural Issues

I was cruising down St. Paul’s street in downtown Baltimore heading off to class when suddenly three youths stepped out in front of my car. My tires squealed as I slammed on the brakes, just in time. Then I waited. The young men stood in front of my car for about 20 seconds, watching me intently. Then they disappeared back where they had come.  During that time, I was not sure what to do. Had I heard the Multicultural Panel before this incident, and listened to Ryan Heeman tell a very similar story, I might have had a better clue. You see, I am white, and the youths were African American.

 If we are going to meet with this kind of dilemma in normal life, life as a counselor will bring even greater challenges. How can I be sensitive to someone who is LGBT? Am I aware of the cultural differences between Asian or African or Hispanic and the dominate white American? Have I ever stepped into the life of someone of another faith tradition, or enjoyed a celebration in another culture? These are the questions the Multicultural Panel at Loyola Pastoral Counseling Department addressed April 26, 2012.

 Professor Katherine Oakes, who teaches a course on Diversity Issues in Counseling, planed the panel. She brought in a number of MS and PhD students to share personal accounts, dissertation work, and clinical experience. They had a lot to share. 

 For each of us, there are limits to our understanding and our knowledge of other cultures. Dian Adams spoke of the clinical insights she has gained in addressing a client’s cultural context. She spoke honestly about having made assumptions, assumptions about how her client perceived herself. And she was wrong. She candidly admitted that had she asked, she would have been in a better position.

 Ryan Heeman recounted his personal perspectives on what post-racial means to him and what it might look like in his personal experience as a “Generation-Y’er.” His own story mirrored mine, except that Ryan knew to look the individuals in the eye and treat them as nothing more than some youths out to have fun.

 Other panel members addressed the issues of religious tolerance and understanding, and individualist and collectivist world views. They are not unique to a culture, says Inna Edara, speaking of his own findings in his dissertation research. And commonality is also not a given, according to Thomas Skeeter, who recounted his visit to Haiti. He expected to find something similar to his own community. Instead he learned that some Haitians could not understand how the African American community failed to reach out to them when they came as immigrants to America. The Haitian youths envied his opportunities for education.

The session ended with suggestions for more presentations and work in this field. Professor Katherine Oakes hopes to continue discussions on diversity and multicultural issues in the Fall of 2012.

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