Dean's Council Discussion
This focus group lasted for only thirty minutes during a regularly scheduled Deans Council meeting. Hence, the numbers of questions were reduced. The first three were from the list of questions presented to all focus groups. The fourth question was asked only of the deans.
Question 1: When you hear the word "multiculturalism," what does this mean to you?
One person began with the definition "learned behavior patterns (as distinct from race, ethnicity, etc.), different ways of thinking and behaving and experiencing as it relates to culture." Another characterized multiculturalism as a belief system with associated value judgements. Another stated it was "more than just beliefs, it's difference in experience as well." One focus group member wanted to emphasize the word "multi" -- "There is not one single culture that has to be used as a standard for everybody to follow." One suggested looking at the term developmentally as well as contextually, saying that the era in which we are born and live impacts practices and beliefs. Finally, someone characterized multiculturalism and diversity as "very positive aspects," then voiced the opinion that the terms can produce negative reactions by some, saying that some campuses evidence the belief that "there is only one way of doing things and looking at things, which is not inclusive but exclusive."
Question 2: When you hear the phrase "multicultural competence," what comes to mind?
The terms "exposure" and "acceptance" were often used during this discussion. Experience in and education about other cultures were presented as elements of multicultural competence. When one person introduced the word "tolerance," another countered, "I hope it goes beyond tolerance into acceptance, and beyond acceptance into actually embracing diversity as a way of gaining from strengths that people from different backgrounds bring." Another said that those who are competent would go beyond knowing about it--"accepting it, promoting it, assisting it, and so on." Someone pointed out that multicultural competence is a "process that can be taught and learned."
Question 3: How relevant is multicultural competence to the preparation of Kansas State University graduates?
The discussion acknowledged that multicultural competence is relevant to the preparation of K-State undergraduates. As one person said, "There's a tremendous demand for it."
Interviews with students, former students, employers, and faculty had identified three common themes: broader education, exposure to diversity, and exposure to international concerns. Another noted that employers are looking for college graduates with in-depth knowledge and experience in multiculturalism. Bilingualism was posed as a plus for many graduates.
Discussion then took a different turn. One person pointed out that many alumni who have come from a single culture, primarily rural, communities in Kansas seem to do better than those from other regions, and asked the question, "Why is that?" Responses included: a combination of acceptance and ability to do the work; a populism prevalent in these populations; students coming to college without the experiences that develop boundaries early in life; the possibility that a monoculture leaves people open and devoid of prejudices. Someone observed that Kansas State University has a commitment to leadership development, which students become actively involved in ways that help them move beyond a particular culture or point of view, or attitude or opinion. Another talked about the campus focus on "curiosity-based learning."
Question 4: What can or should the dean do to provide "multicultural leadership" for a college?
One responded, "Live by example of inclusivity." Other suggestions were to: "continue doing what we are doing but maybe with forcefulness, with more intensity, and providing the opportunity for students to experience"; "relate multiculturalism to the globalized job market"; and preach to the majority not to the minority." A member cautioned that "we not send the message that we are starting from a really bad place. We might actually have some advantages here, though there are some problems, too."
When the discussion shifted to the Dean's leadership role with respect to the faculty members, one person said that K-State "probably doesn't have more than ten percent of the faculty that are so hardcore that they are not going to listen to any of this." One participant asked, "Do we want to mold minority and women to a white male monoculture, or do we want to preserve the differences and emphasize the latter in terms of success?" That question was followed by, "Is that an either/or question?." It was recommended that the university "promote a process of acculturation--gradually absorbing each other's cultures--not assimilation where one simply dominates another one in some way or another." The point was made that efforts at recruiting faculty are paramount but efforts at retaining a diverse faculty are perhaps even more important.