Everyone has been marginalized at some point in their life, Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee told Culver faculty and staff members during one of her June week sessions. Everyone has been stereotyped.
We have all heard “you’re too young” or “you’re too old” at some point, she said. “I have figured out that for 30 minutes after you turn 34, you are just the right age.”
Faculty and staff members meet for a week following the close of the school year. This week included Lee’s six sessions covering Cultural Competency. Lee, who teaches science at the Seattle Girls School, travels extensively presenting on cultural and diversity issues.
“I want to work myself out of a job so I can get back to the classroom,” she said.
Lee said culture is a deeply held set of values. Those values are tied to a person’s various identities. The internal identity covers “who we are.” This includes the group you are born into, the existing systems in place in that group, and subtle cultural missions you are given through that.
The external identity covers geography, which impacts clothing choices, jewelry selections, and what language you speak. “Do you say soda or pop?” she asked as an example. “Is it a hashtag or a pound sign?”
Institutional identity covers such things as titles and positions of influence. And each institution affords different privileges, she said. “Education does matter,” she added.
As the last founding faculty member of the Seattle Girls School, Lee said she has the ability to get things done even though she doesn’t have any titles or executive positions. Because of her tenure, she has “institutional privileges.” But once she steps outside the school, she becomes just another “Asian woman with all the stereotypes that go with that.”
Understanding and celebrating cultural differences allow for growth of the community as a whole. Studies have shown that the greater the diversity, the greater the creative thinking among those involved, Lee explained.
But diversity and inclusion are more than seminar topics. They should be part of an institution’s core values while living its mission “authentically for our times.” It is a shared commitment to one another, with dignity, kindness, and respect for all, whether it is in the academic setting, the dorm, or athletics. And Culver is well-positioned in this, she said.
Cultural competency has to be an ongoing process. And mistakes will happen, even with the most well-meaning people. Lee’s visual image is of someone brushing their teeth. If they don’t do it regularly, plaque will build up. But even if they have perfect oral hygiene, they will occasionally get something stuck in their teeth.
But those mistakes should not keep people from asking questions. Lee said in the age of social media backlash, people may stop asking questions or talking about diversity out of fear of offending someone. But that is how we gain an understanding of why others believe or do the things they do – whether we agree with them or not.