Beginning with this year’s graduates, master’s degree students in counselor education are all embarking on journeys of self-discovery. They’ll examine their own biases and limitations in cross-cultural settings, and will be challenged to keep doing so for the rest of their careers. Their faculty mentors – now on the same journey – explain what that ought to mean for schools.
Multiculturalism is a big part of training for school counselors everywhere, not just at Cal Lutheran, right? Are you saying we’re doing something radically different?
Gail Uellendahl, Ph.D. (T.C. ’03, department chair): We are doing something radically different. It’s an inside-out approach where students are asked to learn about themselves and reflect on their own multiple identities. And it’s woven throughout our whole program.
Heidi Coronado, M.S. ’04, Ph.D.: The multiculturalism that most people teach is very academic. But the cultural proficiency framework we use says there’s a connection between the heart and thinking, and that the experiences you have gone through have made you the person you are.
In our society, we are not encouraged to go into depth and really think about that. If we have the opportunity to check our experiences and also how we form perceptions of others who are different from us, that really brings change.
I understand the four of you are going through this very personal process as a group. Why did you decide to do that?
Uellendahl: Having made the decision as a faculty that we all wanted to adopt the cultural proficiency framework as the model that we use for training our students, we realized, Hey, we have not gone through that journey ourselves. We’re asking our master’s students to go through this very reflective, deep, sometimes messy work. And so we needed to walk the walk.
Cynthia Jew, Ph.D.: You can do this process individually, but we’re asking our students to bring this to the workplace. And at the workplace you have boundaries. You share minimal stories. But you really don’t share. And this process encourages us to do that.
Please tell me something, each of you, about your background and how it makes a difference to you as an educator.
Angela (Namba ’02) Rowley, M.S. ’05: My dad was Japanese and my mom is Norwegian. They faced some definite issues and concerns from people, and I remember that growing up. But because of that I think I was raised with this idea of being very open to new things and people whose life stories are very different from my own. It probably wasn’t until I was a faculty member that I started recognizing that that’s been a story in my life all along.
Coronado: Being a 1.5-generation immigrant from Guatemala – which means I came as an adolescent – and growing up in a working-class family, and being an undocumented student. That’s all part of what I bring that contributes to a wealth of diversity. Being half-Mayan and half-Spanish, being Latina. It all kind of continues with my professional experience with working-class students, and with schools where there’s a lack of resources.
Uellendahl: Even though I’m Caucasian, and I certainly have power and privilege because of that status, I also was raised working-class, very lower-middle class. I was first-generation college. I didn’t have any idea about financial aid, for example – couldn’t get financial aid even though I was at the poverty level when I was going to school.
Half of our students in our master’s program are probably first-gen. Many of the students that they will be serving are first-gen, and so I feel very, very connected, in terms of that part of my identity.
Jew: My mother is from the Philippines and my father from China. I grew up in a very suburban, white, middle-class neighborhood. We owned the requisite Chinese restaurant. I went to a predominantly white school and it never occurred to me that I might be different.
Culture was not something that we talked about in my family. It just was. My understanding of my cultural background probably occurred later on, when I started teaching at the university.
Now that your students are being made to think about their backgrounds and cultural baggage, what difference is this making? Does it change what happens in class?
Coronado: After taking the first class about cultural proficiency, people come ready to have deep discussions about social justice, about culture, about biases in society. They just are ready, while, before, they weren’t there yet.
It was, Let’s not have conflict or Let’s not look at how really, truly we can be advocates for everybody. Now they feel more empowered about who they are as people, but also empowered to be advocates for their students.
Jew: For me, the true mark of teaching is whether students are thinking this outside of the class. What I hear a lot is that the students are thinking about it as they’re driving and as they’re working and talking with their families. It’s almost as if they can’t get it out of their head.
Uellendahl: We tell students, None of us are “culturally proficient.” That’s the goal. I may be culturally proficient in this particular moment, but then I may not be in another moment.
Rowley: That’s why it’s been amazing to watch the growth of my students: to see students who came in a year ago who would have said, yes, I’m culturally proficient, and who now, a year in, recognize that this is a continuum. I know that I’m growing. I look back on myself and recognize, wow, I had no idea what I was getting into.
Uellendahl: Once you know, you can’t be a bystander anymore. You have to act.
And that’s tough, particularly because students will be out in the field in their internships and they’ll notice things. Whether it’s systemic forms of oppression or racism or bias at a particular school, district, county. They have to think, What am I going to do with this? I’m an intern. I don’t have power.
What about when they are counselors? What can they do about the injustices they see?
Uellendahl: Just noticing things helps. Just noticing, well, how is it that the students in the AP classes are primarily Caucasian when you have a school that’s minority Caucasian? How does that happen? And raising questions about that.
Coronado: Society trains you that if you’re different, you’re not good enough. That’s the message that our kids get. I go to the schools and talk to them, and either because they have a disability or because they’re a certain color or they’re from a certain neighborhood or whatever – you’re different, so you don’t fit in, you’re less than, you’re not good enough.
Uellendahl: If you’re a first-gen kid, maybe your parent isn’t going down to the school and saying, Hey, I want my kid to be in such-and-such a class. They might assume, The school knows best. If my child was supposed to be in that class, that is where they’d get placed. Well, that is not exactly so.
Sadly, we have students being told, Oh, you don’t want to do that, honey, that’s too hard. That involves a lot of math. I don’t know about that.
Rowley: And these students have strengths that others may not have. One of my master’s candidates used the example of a first-generation college student who had been able to survive a hard, hard high school with a number of gangs. She was bringing this strength with her and this ability to adapt. She wasn’t telling any of her friends that she got into college, and she was still dressing in a way that – she expressed to him – was appropriate for being with her friends in high school. She didn’t want that challenge from them of being a sellout.
My graduate student’s concern was her seeing that adaptability as an asset. How do I get her to recognize that?
Let’s say cultural proficiency catches fire and that more people are trained in this way. What could the future of education look like?
Jew: This is not hard for me, because I have kids in the schools. When I envision a school that has culturally proficient educators – there’s an emphasis on process rather than product. The school is a school that embraces a conversation.
Coronado: For example, high school students wanted to talk about Ferguson and police violence, because for some of them it affects them directly. But a lot of schools don’t want to bring it up, because they’re afraid that something might explode or the kids are going to get crazy. But really, what they want is to be heard.
Jew: The kids are so inclined now to social media that if the school doesn’t allow a conversation, it doesn’t mean it’s not occurring.
One incident that comes to mind is, there was a girl on a high school football team, and so all of the other football players decided to wear a dress. They wanted this girl to play on the team. That’s not only an action, that’s a conversation that all the kids can connect to.
Are counselors well positioned to bring change to schools? Aren’t they overwhelmed with work?
Uellendahl: Counselors can definitely open up access for students. They’re the ones who are talking to students about their courses and asking the students, What are your college plans?
So if you see a student who’s not scheduled to take math for the ninth grade and yet he’s saying he wants to get into the University of California and seems to have the smarts to do that, you have to work with that student and say, Hey wait, you’re in the wrong class.
Coronado: Even if K-12 counselors have large caseloads, they could provide spaces for kids to be heard. They could help kids to empower themselves and to know that they have a valuable voice and – though you can’t control everybody in the school – to know that you’re going to do everything in your power to help them.
Rowley: And once students know you are a person who is really striving to help them and to give them access, I think they seek you out. You become known on a campus for that. And so I think you have the ability absolutely to be a change agent.
Jew: Being a counselor is different, like a calling. People will come to this program even if there are no jobs. They’ll spend their money, and they’ll wait. You already know that the candidates you’re getting are called to this. So we’re just offering them a stronger voice.
There’s so much more that we need to be doing, but we only have so much time. What is it that we can give people? By no means will they leave this program thinking that this is the end. If it just begins to open up that door for them, then we’ve done our job.
Diana Stephens, a retired Graduate School of Education professor in counselor education, and Professor Jew, who introduced the cultural proficiency model to the department, developed the course that now serves as the cornerstone of its curriculum.