Lecture emphasizes culture’s importance in higher education

by Laryssa Lynch

Cultural and social skills should be taught alongside academics, said guest speaker Geneva Gay Thursday, Oct. 4, in a lecture given in partnership with Whitworth’s school of education in the  Robinson Teaching Theatre. Gay is a professor of education at the University of Washington, and a nationally acclaimed speaker on the topic of multicultural education.

Gay was introduced by Lawrence Burnley, assistant vice president of diversity and intercultural relations and assistant professor of history at Whitworth. The event aligns with plans for a new lecture series under goal four of the Strategic Plan, to demonstrate courageous leadership in an increasingly diverse world.

“The Strategic Plan calls for opportunities to develop curriculum in ways that are culturally responsive,” Burnley said.

In the school of education, Whitworth includes diversity training in preparing students as future educators. But students aren’t the only ones learning about diversity.

“In order for our students to have a good perspective, we need faculty to have one first,” Roberta Wilburn, associate dean and director of graduate studies in education, said.

The multicultural experience Jan Term program has been in place for more than 25 years and has been recognized as a model, said Dennis Sterner, dean of the school of education. This emphasis continues to be extended throughout the campus.

“We need to equip our entire community with intercultural competencies,” President Beck Taylor said.

The topic of the lecture was about choosing course content for an inclusive mind and heart education. Gay addressed a broad range of realities and current setbacks faced in providing this inclusive education.

“I can’t tell you exactly what to do in your context because I am not a member of this context,” Gay said. “Not everyone in your university will ever be ready for diversity.”

In relation to course content in any context, Gay explained that there is a difference between formal and informal curriculum. Formal curriculum includes the academic information distributed through course content. Informal curriculum includes speakers, sports, campus-wide activities and university images.

“In some ways, the informal curriculum, the indirect curriculum, can be more impactful than the formal curriculum,” Gay said.

Within the process of forming a more inclusive education, the informal curriculum must be taken into account. At the same time, the formal curriculum should expand to encompass a more inclusive canon.

“In addition to teaching students academic skills, we need to teach social and cultural skills,” Gay said.

Gay said definitions of diversity should not only include race and ethnicity, but also gender, religion and socioeconomic status. Part of understanding all of these as separate factors of identity is in recognizing that those identities also lead to association within groups, which are also deserving of respect.

“All of us, whoever we are, are cultural beings,” Gay said. “We have to live in this world together.”

At the end of the lecture, Gay opened the floor to questions from the audience. President Beck Taylor asked for Gay’s input on an issue at Whitworth.

“I hear a lot from students who say they don’t see themselves in the curriculum. They feel removed,” Taylor said.

Gay responded by advising Whitworth to cultivate a sense of refuge, reminding the audience that different people need very different resources and support.

mproving on the formal and informal relationships and equipping staff and faculty are all vital contributions.

“Good, solid, deep, authentic relationships are needed all over the place,” Gay said.

Contact Laryssa Lynch at laryssalynch15@my.whitworth.edu.

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