Conversations about Cultural Competency

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Carol Powell / Via itooamharvard.tumblr.com

Blog Post by Kelly Baker- Highland Street Corps Ambassador of Mentoring and SCFG Diversity Fellow 

In the last month, Harvard students sparked meaningful dialogue around race with their “I, too, am Harvard” campaign. Their tumblr page consisted of photos of black, African-American, and Afro-Caribbean Harvard students holding signs that detailed micro-aggressions they had experienced during their time at Harvard. These poignant—and upsetting—photographs were quickly picked up by Buzzfeed and other blogs and news outlets.  A week or so later, Oxford students of color created a similar campaign called “I, too, am Oxford.”

These photographs speak to an issue that connects deeply with the mission of Science Club for Girls.  We believe that girls of color are constantly bombarded with subtle, and not-so-subtle, messaging that science is an exclusive club not meant for them.  Scientists and engineers are most often depicted as white men in the media, with little variation from this script.

science-media-representation 

Clockwise from top to bottom: Big Bang Theory (Ron P. Jaffe/CBS), Bill Nye the Science Guy, Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls

 

Scripts like these need to change. One way of doing this is through cultural competency trainings.  Cultural competency is the idea that with an understanding of privilege and systemic oppression, individuals can have a better sense of how to treat all people with respect and thoughtfulness.

 

We all have hidden biases and categories that we automatically sort people into.  Becoming culturally competent is a continual process.  It is important to catch yourself thinking in terms of biases, and to think critically about the messaging that you have received from society that has impacted how you perceive the world.

 

Facilitators of cultural competency workshops should aim to create a safe space that is both welcoming of everyone and a space in which participants with privileged identities can be challenged to push their thinking further and to work through any uncomfortable feelings they may experience during the training.

 

The purpose of these workshops is for participants to recognize how power and privilege can affect our lives even when we are not aware it is happening. The purpose is not to blame anyone for having more power or privilege or for receiving more help in achieving goals, but to have an opportunity to identify both obstacles and benefits experienced in our lives, and how we might relate to others by keeping this perspective in mind.

 

One way we have continued the conversation here at Science Club for Girls is by bringing our cultural competency training to our volunteer mentor-scientists. While others celebrated St. Patrick’s day, a dozen SCFG volunteers who attend Wellesley College sat down with Allison Smith, Abby Cheng, and myself to discuss diversity and inclusion.  Through drawings, earnest discussion, and laughter, we talked about how to connect with people different from yourself, and how to relate through the commonalities we may share.

 
 
We all learned a lot–and we are eager to continue to work on addressing structural racism and sexism with our volunteers, staff, and girls as part of our mission at Science Club for Girls.
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