MARCHing Toward Cultural Competence!

Mar 21, 16 MARCHing Toward Cultural Competence!

TLC_RGBSince its inception, Welcome Toledo-Lucas County (TLC) has been asking what makes our community welcoming to immigrants and refugees and what can we do to be even more inclusive of our increasingly diverse population. We have heard from residents and leaders, and while more predictable responses like jobs, safety, and language access were identified, another consistent, perhaps unexpected need emerged: cultural competency. After working with partners – Toledo LISC, the University of Toledo, the United Way of Greater Toledo, and the Center for Nonprofit Resources – to respond to this need, Welcome TLC is excited about the concerted and intentional efforts being made and launched this month to becoming a more culturally competent community.

What is cultural competency? Why is it important?

Before defining cultural competency, let’s take a step back to talk about culture. While pinning down one definition of culture is elusive, culture can be described as prescribed ways of behaving; norms of conduct, beliefs, values, and skills; and integrated patters of human behavior passed on through generations (Lum, 2003). Culture is visible, but encompasses unspoken and unconscious rules as well. So everything from food and art (visible) to eating behaviors (unspoken) to standing at an arm’s length from your conversation partner (unconscious) are all a part of culture. Furthermore, a culture could include entire countries or regions (e.g., Midwestern or Southern), religions, racial or ethnic groups, socioeconomic status (i.e., class), or even be based on something like music, such as punk or hip hop.

Considering that every culture is dynamic and complex, being an expert in all cultures is a daunting and improbable task. So how can anyone be expected to interact with and provide services for individuals belonging to cultures other than your own?

Although it is a lifelong process, cultural competence – not expertise – is one such solution to working with people different than yourself. Cultural competence is a continuous and evolving developmental process that is based first and foremost on valuing diversity. It requires an understanding of your own personal values, norms, and beliefs (i.e., a cultural self-assessment) and the ability to manage the dynamics of difference when cultures interact. For organizations, this means developing the ability to work effectively cross-culturally and requires having policies or adaptations to service delivery that reflect an understanding of and respect for cultural diversity and meet social, cultural, and linguistic needs.

Cultural incompetence may not always have severe or long-lasting consequences, for example, the discomfort caused by an invasion of personal space. However, cultural incompetence can have severe effects on health or educational disparities and be a significant barrier to people seeking or being retained for services.

Making Progress

Multicultural Competence Workshop sponsored by C4NPR and Welcome TLC

Multicultural Competence Workshop sponsored by C4NPR and Welcome TLC

March has been an eventful month for advancing cultural competency in our community. First, Welcome TLC partnered with the Center for Nonprofit Resources to present an all-day workshop on March 10th. Welcome TLC was able to leverage a national partnership with Welcoming America to find a highly experienced trainer and practitioner, Suzanne Lelaurin, the Senior Vice-President for Programs of the International Institute of St. Louis and President of the Institute’s Community Development Corporation. Suzanne introduced the 40 attendees to evidence-based theory about cultural dimensions, as well as practical tools on cultural dimensions and how these tools can lead to more effective communications, interactions, and relationships. She recognized that cultural competency is an ongoing process that must constantly be (re)learned and practiced to be effective. The workshop ended with a challenge from Suzanne to focus on understanding, observing, and practicing just one dimension before moving on to the improving upon the next.

Another step forward for cultural competency is the release of the application for a six week workshop: Cultural Competency for Service Providers. A partnership of the University of Toledo, Toledo LISC, Welcome TLC, and the United Way of Greater Toledo, the workshop is designed to help direct service providers recognize and use culture more effectively when working with others. Participants will develop skills to recognize and build upon their own and others’ cultural frameworks to work toward achieving common goals. The course will foster awareness and understanding of culture and power, as well as the practical tools services providers can use to empower themselves and their clients/participants.

Cultural Competency for Service Providers will run every Thursday from April 14th through May 19th from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM at the United Way of Greater Toledo. The deadline to submit applications has been extended to Friday, March 25th by 5:00 PM to vmoffitt@lisc.org. To access the application, click here.

As honing an individual’s cultural competency is a life-long process, so too is it for our community. And Welcome TLC and Toledo LISC are eager to continue this work with partners to help increase our competency, provide better services, and build a more welcoming community!

Reference: Lum, D. (2003). Culturally competent practice: A framework for understanding diverse groups and justice issues. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

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