In America, educators have embraced the long standing practice of valuing mainstream traditional western concepts like individualism over collectivism and community-centered planning. However, America is a country filled with a wealth of ethnicities, cultures, subcultures, belief systems and ideas. Many minority cultures in America practice traditions that have long benefited the people in their communities and with whom they share similar backgrounds. As individuals, we must acknowledge that the solutions which worked on our journey to become school counselors may not work best for or be culturally relevant to all students. We must consistently make efforts to become more aware of blindspots in our professional approaches and value the lived experiences of people from other economic and sociocultural backgrounds.
While the cost of postsecondary institutions are becoming increasingly more expensive and student aid largely is not adjusting to the inflating price of college, many minority households in America remain below the poverty line. The fears and barriers to success for these families are real and deserve deep consideration when presented. When counselors inject their own socioeconomic experiences into the future plans of these families while overlooking their lived experiences, they appear dismissive. Instead, counselors should strive to find practical solutions that benefit the family that they are assisting by listening and becoming more culturally aware. Such cultural awareness will increase counselors ability to present more relevant opportunities.
Beyond financial barriers, barriers in representation may create anxiety for students. For example, counselors who work in high need districts are often giving first generation families information about career fields in which they do not personally have relationships with successful people or institutions that they have never experienced. These students need more representation in career pathways to envision their own success and a stronger belief that they can succeed at the aforementioned postsecondary institutions. For these students and their families, their lived experience is one in which school counselors are asking them to have faith in systems that have not historically benefited them or people that look like them.
Collectivism vs Individuality
An overemphasis on individuality creates a massive cultural blindspot for many Americans. It is totally understandable to push people to do the best they can for themselves. However, some cultures care more about their community as a whole and continue to find success over the years through these practices and mindsets. There is also comfort and safety in collectivity when you are a member of a minority population in America. Culturally competent professional school counselors should value the entire child, their culture, community, and the lived experiences that they bring forth.
In America, people strongly believe individualism and push students to fulfill their dreams even if their family disagrees. The American career seeking mindset is typically about being happy with your own life. Students are told that happiness is just as important as financial success. There is a lot of merit to this position because career satisfaction is important but so is purpose. Studies have shown that people who choose careers for happiness but do not feel a sense of purpose do not remain in their careers (Brooks, 2020). If community is a part of the students purpose the counselor must honor that in order to give sound advice.
Additionally, people from other cultures and marginalized backgrounds in America typically employ some form of collectivism. In some cases, there are many families that are struggling to pay bills to make ends meet or maybe live in multigenerational households to make due. These families tend to need their children to work in order to provide shelter. Delayed gratification is often not a motivating factor for them because survival is more important. This type of student may decline to move away for college because their family needs the additional support. Many low income families also push their children towards careers that are practical and can uplift the entire family over more abstract student-centered pathways. There are families that are just beginning to build wealth and financial stability together and may not have the luxury of impractical majors because their family is depending on them.
Immigrant populations sometimes find strength in moving to areas where people from their cultures already live. Sometimes they open stores, markets, and other businesses that serve the needs of their families and communities. A lot of immigrants work together to overcome cultural and language barriers. Some parents may not want to send their child far away from their community because of these factors. Other families may want their child to work in their family business because they want to build wealth for the next generation. The students' sacrifice here provides value to the collective and may add purpose to their work.
Families also have concerns about coronavirus, deportation, police brutality and more. We are currently living in a very stressful time and marginalized groups are typically disproportionately impacted when times are hard. Poor people often have fewer resources and many minority populations suffer from unequal access to quality healthcare. So, parents may be leery of sending their child far away. Families are also being separated right now due to their citizenship status. Unarmed black and brown people are being murdered on camera and these videos are being disseminated on social media platforms. Additionally, some young adults are also very immature and make irrational decisions on college campuses that can jeopardize their safety. There is so much going on right now and parents are understandably afraid.
Covid-19 disproportionately impacts minority communities largely because of factors like unequal access to healthcare, obesity, cardiovascular health, being under insured, and more. Parents may be leery of sending their child, who may not be the most responsible, away to school because of these factors. Minorities also have a long and complicated history with the American medical system. Recent studies show that there are major disparities in treatments and outcomes amongst the demographic groups that lead to costly emergency room visits and subpar health outcomes (Oguz, 2020). Some parents are concerned about sending their children to navigate a pandemic and the health care system alone.
Parents from immigrant backgrounds may fear deportation or family separation due to their immigration status. Some families may feel that completing the FAFSA and other college related forms could expose their family to unnecessary harm. Many of the previous protections that immigrant families have are being rescinded. Parents are rightfully afraid and may be apprehensive about giving the federal government access to their names and addresses. Ideological backgrounds aside, it is human to care about the safety of your family members especially your children.
Parents are also afraid of police brutality in addition to fears of the coronavirus and deportation. College students sometimes make very irrational decisions. Many parents may worry that their child may not receive the benefit of a doubt if they have a police encounter. No parent wants to receive a call in the middle of the night about the safety and well-being of their child while they are far away. Parents want to be there for their child whenever they are in need even if they made a mistake.
College Expenses Rise, Financial Aid Doesn’t
One of the most difficult conversations that I have witnessed as an educator was a parent having to tell their child they could not afford to send them to their dream school. When money is an obstacle, parents will do almost anything to help their child including applying for Parent Plus Loans and private loans. While some families may succeed in financing a child’s education, there are many others who do not have those options due to issues with their credit score or immigration status. These legitimate fears may cause angst about high cost postsecondary recommendations.
The price of college is ever increasing and parents do not want to tell their children that they cannot afford to support them in attending school. So many students struggle to find aid to attend four year institutions especially when they need to live on campus. Most institutions in-state and out of state cost more to attend than the maximum amount of federal aid that a freshman can receive. College costs continue to surpass the inflation rate while financial aid has largely remained stagnant (Houle, 2014). Students who do not receive a significant amount of money in scholarships often end up spending exorbitant amounts of money on college attendance. Like anything else, rising college costs disproportionately impacts marginalized communities that do not have the resources to afford the increased price. In addition to rising costs, undocumented families cannot receive federal aid. I have seen some of the most intelligent and talented children (documented or undocumented) struggle to find funding to attend college.
Many families have negative or no experience at all when it comes to postsecondary education. There are so many first generation families that do not know anyone that has gone to college and honestly do not know anything about the college application process. Additionally, others have not had positive experiences with education in general and may have doubts about their (or their child’s) ability to navigate through the admissions process and ultimately become a first generation college graduate. It is difficult for some parents to seek help from educators when they have not had positive educational experiences.
There are many parents in America that didn’t finish high school. For those who were labeled “problem students” or feel like they did not receive the help that they needed to be successful , their apprehension toward school counselors and educators presents a unique but not uncommon roadblock. These parents may not be as quick to reach out to the school and ask for help. As such, it is imperative school counselors build relationships with parents and students in order to better support educational goals.. Faith in education may require time and patience to develop. We are essentially asking many parents to have faith in an educational system they believe failed them under the auspices that the same system will better serve their children. Parental involvement in the college process means school counselors working to overcome past negative experiences and adding an additional layer of perspective from the lens of those who have seen these processes work for the betterment of individuals and communities.
While navigating the admissions process, students and parents must proactively seek help from counselors, admissions representatives, and financial aid advisors. There are so many components to the college admissions process. Assistance is needed with everything from school and major selection, test preparation, financial aid, applying for scholarships, dorm room deposits, and reading financial aid award letters. In addition to those activities, there is often a lot of correspondence that’s difficult to understand, interpret, and follow through. As counselors, we know the magnitude of work involved in every step. We also know that each step might be met with or burdened by significant barriers for families. For perspective, this process is made significantly harder when parents do not speak English. It is easy to become overwhelmed when applicants are unfamiliar with the process.
Becoming More Culturally Competent
The road to cultural competency is never ending because there are so many cultures and subcultures around our country and the world. The first step in becoming more culturally competent is discovering for yourself why it is important for you to learn more. Grow with a sense of purpose. If you are culturally different from the community that you serve, seek understanding by talking directly and listening even more to people to understand their fears and concerns.
Next, seek additional training and resources whenever possible. Attending professional development and obtaining cultural competency credentials are excellent ways to grow. Many state and local school counseling associations are beginning to build these resources in an effort to enhance the cultural competency of their members. ASCA has a Cultural Competency Specialist Credential available. On the credential page, there are a bevy of helpful books, articles, webinars, and videos. In addition to this credential, ASCA has a Race and Equity Resource page that provides a lot of resources. Teaching Tolerance also provides articles and email updates that are incredible for building cultural competence. Finally, Beyond Diversity has a highly recommended cultural competency training program called Courageous Conversations about Race.
If you are interested in working with educators in your community try joining or starting book studies within your district or community. This is an amazing way to obtain knowledge and grow with your colleagues. Many districts are beginning to utilize this as a way to build community and improve the knowledge base of the staff. Many schools also have student clubs like minority based student unions and Gay Straight Alliances. Get involved with the subgroups in your school! There are so many avenues to grow cultural competency and the road is never ending so enjoy the ride.
Brooks, A. (2020, June 09). 4 Rules for Identifying Your Life's Work. Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/05/how-choose-fulfilling-career/611920/
Houle, J. N. (2014). Disparities in Debt: Parents’ Socioeconomic Resources and Young Adult Student Loan Debt. Sociology of Education, 87(1), 53–69. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038040713512213
Jachimowicz, J., To, C., Menges, J., & Akinola, M. (2017, December 7). Igniting Passion from Within: How Lay Beliefs Guide the Pursuit of Work Passion and Influence Turnover. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/qj6y9
Oguz, T. (2019). Update on Racial Disparities in Access to Healthcare: An Application of Nonlinear Decomposition Techniques*. Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell), 100(1), 60–75. https://doi.org/10.1111/ssqu.12551
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