Ruben Perez, creator of the workshop “Understanding Students of Hispanic/Latino Descent and their Parents” asks the question: Why does diversity training often fall short of its goal to unite? Answer: When training focuses on differences, people often find little reason to agree.
For as much as we can learn from others of different backgrounds, people who spend more time focused on the discomfort of the unfamiliar will miss out on opportunities to understand more of the world around them. It is conceivable that in a workplace filled with people from similar backgrounds, religious experiences, racial/cultural backgrounds, and belief systems, few topics of conversation would elicit heated debates or even views that overtly oppose each other. However, if that same room were filled with people from various racial/cultural backgrounds, religions, and political views, the need to be “politically correct” would surface in order to maintain civility in the work environment. For example, if all the office employees were Christian, a Christmas party would likely be acceptable. A staff of both Christians and non-Christians would probably refer to the same event as a holiday or winter party.
When people from similar backgrounds come together, they often share similar “filters” by which they assess information in order to feel comfortable. When people from diverse backgrounds discuss topics such as minority issues, immigration (legal or illegal), vouchers in education, and other controversial topics, they view each topic with filters that are as varied as their backgrounds. People are usually able to discuss issues related to their jobs, investments, and other topics in a manner that distances their personal feelings from the topic of conversation; however, when the conversation centers on diversity, people are more likely to be affected by personal experience and emotion.
Four overlapping mindsets can color how one tempers information in conversations relating to diversity. These four mindsets are relevant to one’s view on race/culture, gender, politics, and religion. Many social experts, Elizabeth Post included, recommend that people refrain from having conversations on the topics of sex, politics, and religion in the workplace or as a means of casual conversation. Many authors who address etiquette have followed suit. When race/culture is added to the conversation, it can be a wonderful exchange of ideas or a very unfortunate experience. It is important that we as educators allow ourselves to “open our filters” and be aware of how our emotional biases affect our professional statements and opinions.
When I present workshops on understanding the Hispanic culture and diversity in general, I bring attention to four mindsets of diversity:
- Groups of people related by common descent, blood, or heredity
- Distinctions and combinations of physical traits
- People who are thought of as “units” because of common characteristics
- Phenomena or behavior dependent on gender differences
- Marital practices and rituals
- Heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual relationships
- History of how political affairs were conducted
- Political principles and opinions
- Causes and effects of political events
- Concern over what exists beyond the physical world
- Operations of faith and/or institutions in contrast to reason and logic
- Salvation vs. destiny
These four aspects can and do overlap in their effects on behaviors we exhibit in private and behaviors we exhibit in public, where more limits of self-expression are practiced.
We have a civilization when there is a place and time where people can discuss issues such as the United States’ current war situation, school holidays, or any current event and allow others to differ in their opinion or mindset. This is where we answer the call to be civil. Maintaining the adult voice helps to promote agreeable discussions with multiformity that is inclusive as opposed to exclusive. As educators, it is a part of our professional art to appreciate the palette that each of our diverse students and colleagues uses to paint.
Ruben Presents his new workshop, Understanding Students of Hispanic/Latino Descent and their Parents, to help us gain a deeper understanding of the hidden rules in this culture.
“Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis (TA): Early TA history and theory.” (2005). http://www.businessballs.com/transact.htm
Post, Elizabeth. (1992). Emily Post’s Etiquette. New York: HarperCollins Publishers
About the author:
Ruben Perez of Houston, Texas has been in education since 1988. He taught general education and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in K – 8. Ruben is currently an administrator with Cypress-Fairbanks I.S.D. He is a student advocate in the Department of Academic Achievement. The department focuses on district wide dropout intervention programs. The interventions vary from mentoring, peer & college tutoring, staff development, and after school dance organizations. He is also a director at one of the district’s off-campus tutoring sites located in a Section Eight apartment complex. He started using the strategies recommended by aha! Process in 1996 and became passionate about the information and its effectiveness. Ruben is co-author of the article “Bullying Among Ninth Grade Hispanic Students” (2005). In 1998 he was awarded Wal-Mart’s teacher of the year. He is the recipient of a State Proclamation, an honorary life time Parent Teacher Association (PTA) member, awarded spotlight teacher 2001-2002 and received the Outstanding Young American award. He was also a board member for Urban Harvest; a non-profit organization that supports school and community gardens. His motto is, “To be educated is to be liberated”.