How African American and white students and faculty
develop a strong identity and healthy interpersonal
relationships is explored. Faculty are encouraged to
engage students in dialogue about multicultural issues
and adapt their teaching practices to create a culturally
responsive learning environment for students and faculty.
Creating a Culturally Responsive
Learning Environment for
African American Students
Mary F. Howard-Hamilton
“All students, including those from traditional White, middle class backgrounds, have a right to expect that their courses present comprehensive knowledge and prepare them to succeed in a multicultural community. Understanding the perspectives of many groups enriches the lives of all students, and promotes a more equitable society for all” (Kitano, 1997a, p. 4).
Faculty members have the power to make the learning environment for all students inclusive and supportive rather than isolating and exclusionary. This can be done successfully by creating a culturally responsive curriculum in which the life experiences of diverse groups will not be expunged from the course content. Students’ ability to understand multiple perspectives is mediated by, among other factors, their own racial identity development. Theories of racial identity development, for both people of color and whites, can help us understand this important dimension of preparing all students to succeed in a multicultural society.
Racial identity theories have been developed to understand how white people and individuals from visible racial ethnic groups identify with their racial cohorts (Carter, 1995). As children grow and develop in this society, they become aware that they belong to a specific racial group. According to Carter, “the challenge for each individual is to incorporate race into his or her personal identity” (p. 82). Specifically, an individual’s identity and personality is complex and dynamic, made up of immutable characteristics, unusual experiences, and personal challenges and choices. Personalities and identities are also products of societal influences such as the family, the