Stephen F. Austin State University

Diversity Statement

Diversity Statement

SFASU Department of Human Services
Diversity Statement

(adopted from Diversity Statement developed by R. J. Steward
for the Michigan State University
Counseling Psychology and Counseling programs)

The Department of Human Services is committed to maintaining an atmosphere that values and exhibits appreciation of unique perspectives that students bring to the training arena. Training will encourage cognitive and behavioral flexibility, which will enhance cross-cultural interactions among peers and with clients. In most programs, we have historically included at least one course that acknowledged cultural differences as part of the required core curriculum. However, we have recognized one critical training limitation, which has resulted from this tradition. Trainees currently leave training with general content knowledge and competency as a general practitioner, which can at times mimic multicultural competency; however, they maintain an inability to sensitively (tone), respectfully (verbal response), and effectively (follow-up) address points of contention that commonly occur among peers or with clients with different backgrounds and points of origin. Consequently, trainees' skill development in maintaining effective working alliances with those who are "different" is often left to chance. The probability of the development of factions and student alienation increase with individuals' unwillingness and/or inability to resolve 'cultural collisions' (Steward, Gimenez, & Jackson, 1995). Students are then less prepared to thrive and survive in work environments wherein these skills will be required. Though individual faculty members are often called to intervene in the negative aftermath of an interpersonal problem, there is currently no full-faculty, programmatic model for prevention of long-term problems among trainees. Though faculty members' silence regarding interpersonal tensions may be perceived as an easy response to differences among students, the clear identification of the 'problems' as opportunities for introspection and learning will result in a more effective future colleague. The cost of continuing to ignore these learning opportunities will reinforce cross-cultural incompetence, a state that I, as the Department Chair, would like to avoid.

Our Department offers a wide range of training opportunities and experiences. Inherent in training and curriculum is the infusion of issues related to diversity and development across the lifespan. We as faculty acknowledge that students arrive with attributes that contribute to the uniqueness of their adjustment to training (i.e., interest, age, race, gender, SES, socio-political perspective, disability, etc.) and will influence their interactions with faculty, peers, and clientele. Students will be encouraged and sometimes required to engage in discourse that provides multiple perspectives of person variables and societal issues and the influence of each in interpersonal interactions. When cross-cultural collisions do occur, this Department's Model for an appropriate strategy to respond is described below. Students are expected to become familiar with and use this model as needed. All faculty members will demonstrate a commitment to diversity by providing sensitive feedback to students as they attempt to implement the model as a strategy in interpersonal problem-solving and by attending to diversity in course content and classroom discussion. The principles of RESPECT, CARING, RESPONSIBILITY, UNITY, and INTEGRITY, indicators of the SFA Way, serve as the underpinnings for this adopted local practice (http://www.sfasu.edu/policies/student-conduct-code.pdf). Please review the Student Code of Conduct at this link to have a comprehensive overview of students' rights and responsibilities in engaging others.

Recognizing the challenge involved in addressing interpersonal tensions resulting from cross-cultural collisions, this department has done what few other departments have: developed a programmatic model that provides procedural guidelines for addressing and responding to interpersonal glitches that are certain to occur among training cohorts with a critical representation of diversity, which is highly valued here at SFA. The purpose of this policy is to provide a brief description of the model for prevention/intervention of 'cultural collisions' among students and between students and faculty.

Prevention/Intervention Model for Cultural Collisions
First, students must be aware of the normalcy of cultural collisions. Some students arrive with the idea that "appreciation of diversity" is and should be easy, and are frightened or angered at any point of contention that arises among peers and/or with faculty. Some students arrive expecting that their unique area of diversity should be valued more so than others, particularly when values are in direct opposition or in competition for attention in the mainstream media. Factions develop. Majority representation often rules; minority representation often loses; when the minority wins with an outcome of angry silence, the victory may not be victorious for the minority or majority voice. This dynamic is typically exacerbated by enforced perspectives of student factions with faculty allies. All such outcomes originate from the expectation that one perspective or interpersonal style must reign and others must not. These outcomes occur when the development of cognitive and behavioral flexibility is not the primary goal of training. Below, I provide some clear guidelines for understanding and mediating differences among colleagues and with those in authority.

First, students must be aware that there are patterns of responding to 'difference' that increase the probability of a negative outcome as well as those that do not. This increased awareness would compose the prevention component of the model. The following are basic steps for addressing cultural collisions that distinguish responses that are reactive from those that are responsive:

First, the positive outcome activities allow opportunities for assessing personal responsibility in maintaining the negative outcomes of cultural collisions. Students also have some guidelines for assessing when there is a need for faculty intervention. Student orientations, culture-related coursework, professional seminars, and the ethics courses might include an overview of guidelines and discuss potential barriers to compliance.

Second, it is important that students are aware that they are not alone in developing skills in attending to diversity among themselves. Students are not expected to be experts in 'fixing' interpersonal problems, given the status differences which can exist within student cohorts (i.e., alliances with faculty, interpersonal style differences, popularity with other students, etc.) and between them and faculty members. Full program faculty assistance and that from the Department Chair will be available and no perspective that promotes divisiveness and alienation will be reinforced verbally or in silence. When guidelines have been followed and negative outcomes prevail, students will report immediately to his/her advisor. The advisor(s) will then present the case to the entire program faculty for discussion, including consultation with the Department Chair as needed. The generation of alternative strategies toward resolution of the negative outcome of the tension will ensue. Not all points of difference are resolvable. However, for the purpose of our training environment, it is assumed that all points of differences can be mediated in such a way to result in effective working alliances. The following provides a set of guidelines for the second part of this model, the intervention component.

  1. After effort to directly resolve or address the tension due to a point of difference with another (i.e., student-peer, faculty, administrative staff) results in a negative outcome (i.e., verbal abuse, avoidance, ignoring, public shaming, unfair/punitive treatment), the next step is to report the 'collision' to an academic advisor(s) in a typewritten detailed description of the event or set of events, the attempt to resolve, and the outcome of the attempt. When the unresolved tension has occurred between a student and faculty member, who is also an advisor, the student shall report to the program director. When the unresolved tension has occurred between a student and a program director/coordinator, the student shall report to the Department Chair.
  2. The contacted person reports to the program coordinator and/or Chair to place the discussion of the case on the program faculty meeting agenda. Expediency is key; and a special program meeting shall be called. Students must assume responsibility for reporting their collision with another.
  3. During the program faculty meeting, faculty will review the written report, hear the views of each of the parties involved, consider the match between the reports, and work together with the individuals to offer recommendations toward resolution or mediation, in the process considering university policy and legal/ethical standards (i.e., faculty mediation, counseling).
  4. Follow-up reports after faculty recommendations shall occur. The intent is to support the notion that working toward the maintenance of effective working alliances is a normal part of professional development and day-to-day professional life. Reports with notes regarding the process and outcome shall be maintained in files at the program level and included in program objectives and assessment reports. When negative outcomes persist after intervention at the academic unit level (department), other parties, including the College Dean, General Counsel, Office of Disability Affairs, Office of Multicultural Affairs, or Office of Student Services, shall be consulted.

The faculty members associated with the SFASU Department of Human Services desire to resolve conflicts according to university guidelines and in a manner agreeable to all parties whenever possible. In addition to these guidelines for conflict resolution, university policy provides guidelines for academic appeals at the following website: http://www.sfasu.edu/policies/academic-appeals-by-students.pdf.

Robbie J. Steward, Ph.D.