Editorial: Cultural competency training could be transformative — so long as it’s truly comprehensive

Two weeks ago, the Tufts Community Union Senate passed a resolution requiring cultural competency training for all faculty and administrative staff. As the resolution explains, research has shown that cultural competency for instructors leads to better outcomes for students, both in terms of feelings of personal growth as well as community building in the classroom. The students and faculty who develop the program will certainly be committed to expanding cultural awareness as effectively as possible, but it’s important to note that not all cultural competency training is created equal. The training Tufts provides should cast a wide net to ensure that all students feel comfortable in their learning environments and that faculty and staff feel equipped to handle issues of diversity and inclusion. There are a couple of things the cultural competency training should take into account to be as comprehensive as possible:

Firstly, it should account for microaggressions in the classroom — including those committed by other students.

Often, cultural sensitivity training covers the way that professors interact with students but does not ensure that student-to-student interaction — a major part of any non-lecture course — creates an inclusive community. Professors should do more than ensure that they are not actively contributing to cultural hostility in the classroom; they must work to foster an environment in which students are not victimized by others and that students who engage in insensitive behavior are made aware and can correct. Further, as research presented in the 2009 Journal of Academic Medicine reports, professors must not only acknowledge other cultures but should also demonstrate a “critical awareness” of cultural issues in order for students to gain insight in their respective field’s interaction with society at large.

It should also include Tufts faculty teaching abroad in training.

As the Le Bowl incident described in an email sent to the community on Oct. 11 highlights, Tufts faculty abroad must also be held accountable for critical cultural awareness and be trained to properly deal with issues of explicit racism and cultural inclusion. Racism abroad is not a fringe issue — it’s a problem for which Tufts abroad programs need to be prepared so that students aren’t left to deal with the fallout themselves.

Training professors and administrators for incidents within our campus is certainly important, but we must also ensure that faculty members who are responsible for students outside the campus bubble are prepared for the very real and highly common situations in which minority students find themselves when studying abroad. On campus, if a professor is irresponsible with regard to an issue of cultural competency, there are dozens of administrators and other professors immediately at a student’s disposal to seek recourse for that action. Abroad, there are only a handful of individuals a student can turn to. We must ensure these administrators are properly prepared for the task.

Many may criticize this training as extra bureaucracy for professors and administrators to deal with, but comprehensive cultural competency training could help move Tufts toward the goal of being an inclusive community for all. Including all three of these elements in the training is necessary to ensure that the training will be effective and impactful.