Common Sense and Diversity: Why Are Cultural Differences Disguised as 'Maladjustments'?

By Terrell, Charles | Black Issues in Higher Education, February 8, 1996 | Go to article overview

Common Sense and Diversity: Why Are Cultural Differences Disguised as 'Maladjustments'?


Terrell, Charles, Black Issues in Higher Education


Why are Cultural Differences Disguised as `Maladjustments'?

Ethnic underrepresentation creates a host of problems for the American higher education community. One of the most serious is whether or not cultural diversity is alive, well or even possible. Educators acknowledge their ineffectiveness complying with legal, social and demographic mandates to increase minority participation in higher education; hence, the field remains racially polarized. The higher educational community must change; it must find a way to welcome the minority group presence on campus to promote and ensure peace, prosperity and an educated workforce for the future.

Creating and nurturing cultural diversity is problematic if for no other reason than the many definitions extant. The anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Taylor suggests that culture is a complex mix of patterns of behavior of a given group of people that include standards, laws and beliefs. Because culture involves every component of one's life, Taylor speculates that conflict arises between groups when they are unaware of different cultural expectations.

Has the American higher education community created an environment conducive to shared cultural expectations? Seemingly, it has not. It is massive -- fully able to accommodate nearly half of all high school graduates. Unfortunately, however, it is a highly stratified system with a disproportionate number of minority and disadvantaged students in two-year institutions and majority students in four-year and so-called "elite" institutions.

Many minority students, consequently, do not come into contact with majority students in four-year institutions, and those who do often find inhospitable or uncomfortable environments. This results from the mistaken assumption of a common cultural bond between different cultural groups. Hence, there is an invalid assumption of equality. African-American students, for example, are particularly vulnerable to assumptions of equality because the college and university community seems to view their problems and differences as "maladjustments" rather than valid cultural differences. …

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Common Sense and Diversity: Why Are Cultural Differences Disguised as 'Maladjustments'?
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