Experience gains cultural acceptance

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Published 2011-02-07T22:31:00Z”/>


Melissa Hahn

Get out of the Chico bubble. In fact, pop it. Break all barriers, explore and be prepared for anything.

Cultural competency is being non-judgmental to people and their backgrounds. It’s an imperative trait to have in the real world, especially when traveling, moving homes, making friends and going into the workforce.

Chico State struggles with diversity, but there are ways to find and improve the outlook on different communities in this town.

Being Korean-American, I can’t say how many times I’ve been approached with “Konichiwa!” or “What are you?” I don’t know whether to respond with a smartass remark like “a human being,” unleash profanity upon the unwise fools or give them the answer they want.

Among 15,989 students enrolled in fall 2010, 62 percent are Caucasian, 15 percent are Hispanic, 6 percent are Asian and 2 percent are black, according to Chico State’s website. Eleven percent of students declined to declare ethnicity.

While the number of Latino and Asian students increased in the last nine years, the black and Native American numbers remain low.

With the anticipation of the 2010-2015 Diversity Action Plan, which strives to make a more inclusive learning community, I question its ability to produce real results.

Chico State succeeds in educating, organizing groups and hosting multi-cultural events. While this helps, I don’t think students understand the differences people face unless they go through the experience themselves.

When I had diversity training two summers ago, I learned that cultural incompetence takes place in the most trivial areas, but collectively contributes to the divide. It ranges from the availability of certain foods to having to find specialty salons to get a haircut.

The most common frustrations that American minorities share are the stereotypical questions and assumptions they receive.

The first step to being culturally conscious is to try and eliminate all stereotypes.

Senior health education major Sonya Shumate thinks that people put up barriers before they get to know her because she is black, she said.

Rather than generalizing a person to a group, questioning creates opportunities to learn and make connections.

Questions should be asked in open-ended, neutral forms such as “Where are you from?” or “What are your beliefs on that?” Respecting the answer is a part of understanding that everyone comes from a different background.

Ultimately, being immersed in other cultures is the best way to get perspective. If traveling is too expensive, one can certainly get creative and bring it home.

My friend has foreign film night weekly, where he and his friends cook an international meal and watch a flick in a different language.

I find his proactive and ongoing effort to appreciate and learn about other cultures is an uncommon practice, because people tend to want to stick to what they know.

There are several ways to discover cultures in Chico, like going to Cafe Culture to try salsa dancing or U.K. hip-hop. Attending various club meetings or workshops is a way to see what cultures Chico State has to offer. Or go to a Black history event (see calendar on D3).

My favorite way to break out of the Chico bubble is by simply taking a vacation.

Visiting a friend out of town for a weekend is refreshing in view, taste, sound and feel. Traveling gives first-person experience to interact with the town, its community, geography, food and entertainment.

Let’s not forget that cultural competency doesn’t limit itself to demographics and ethnic background – it touches on religion, politics, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, gender, affiliations and more.

Take the time to consider the culture and its origins, then build judgment.

Stereotyping is almost impossible to diminish, and everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. I can’t say that I don’t occasionally joke about my own culture.

Cultural competency should be engaged physically, verbally, mentally and socially, not just to understand others, but to understand oneself outside of the comfort zone. Chico may be a bubble, but its potential goes beyond.

Melissa Hahn can be reached at

[email protected]


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