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Why cultural humility?

The Hispanic Serving Institution Cultural Competence Work Group is shifting the perspective and the conversation.

By Angela Marquez, Ph.D., Tanya Greathouse, Ph.D., Sam Borrego

October 7, 2019

Two traditional Mexican dancers performing.Over the past year, the Hispanic-Serving Institution Cultural Competence Work Group has looked at the various cultural competency trainings currently offered at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

In its research, the group identified the need to coordinate and collaborate these cultural competency efforts to ensure the University was prepared to best support and educate our diverse student population. The group, headed by Sam Borrego, coordinator of First-Gen Initiatives, and Tanya Greathouse, Ph.D., assistant professor, Social Work, has developed the beginnings of a Cultural Humility Program to facilitate growth around cultural competency.

Cultural humility is grounded in a perspective of respectful, non-intrusive, not-knowing curiosity. According to “The multicultural guidelines in practice: Cultural humility in clinical training and supervision,” it relies on non-paternalistic partnerships, mutual respect, unpresuming curiosity toward individual cultural identity, self-critique, and actions that equalize relational and societal power imbalances.

As members of the MSU Denver community, it can be helpful to think about these concepts as related to a developmental continuum; thus, eliminating the analysis that one person is more competent than another and instead appreciating that we all are on a continuous journey of cultural awareness, acceptance and understanding. It is beneficial to identify where oneself is on the developmental continuum, to assess others on the continuum and to encourage all to progress along the continuum while building a foundation to enter into discussions about diversity, privilege, oppression and social justice. 

By appreciating that everyone is on their own continuum to gain awareness of and adapt to other cultural values and representations, we are able to withhold judging the other. The perspective of “I am right and the other is wrong” is suspended when we all realize our understanding of the other is informed by our personal histories and experiences. This perspective invites us to learn about the other instead of judging and rejecting the other.

As an institution invested in being a welcoming, inclusive community for all, modeling our Cultural Competence Program on Cultural Humility will promote on-going learning and growing as we deepen our capacities to embrace cultural differences.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles on the Intercultural Developmental Inventory and multicultural humility programming.

For more information, please contact Greathouse at or 303-615-0498.

Topics: Center for Multicultural Excellence and Inclusion, Diversity, Hispanic Serving Institution, Inclusive leadership

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