Multicultural Sensitivity and Interpersonal Skills Training for Preservice Teachers

Article excerpt

Teacher education students who participated in a Multicultural Relationship Enhancement program showed significant improvement in empathic listening and expressive speaking in conflictual multicultural situations. No significant difference was found between participants and a wait-list control group on a measure of prejudice.


In recent decades, the legal and social systems have been instrumental in curbing the overt expression of prejudice in the United States (Kendall, 1996). Nevertheless, prejudice has hardly been eradicated and remains a significant problem in American society (Sandhu & Aspy, 1997). The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, were followed by a dramatic increase in hate crimes against Southeast Asians (CNN, 2001). More than 300 reports of harassment or abuse were received by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the 2 days following the attacks, which is close to half the number received in the entire previous year. in 1999, the most recent year for which data are available, 7,876 hate crimes were reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by agencies in 48 states and the District of Columbia (Federal Bureau of Investigation, n.d.). Of those incidents, racial bias motivated 56% of the crimes. Victims of religious bias represented 17% of the total number of victims; sexual orientation, 16%; and ethnicity or national origin, 11%. Crimes against persons accounted for 63% of the hate crime victims, whereas 37% were crimes against property.

In 1999, 802 of the reported hate crime incidents occurred in schools or colleges (Federal Bureau of Investigation, n.d.). Of those, 460 were incidents of racial bias, 56 incidents were motivated by bias against the victim's ethnicity or national origin, 156 by religious bias, and 127 by sexual orientation bias. In that same year, approximately 13% of students ages 12 through 18 years indicated that in the previous 6 months, someone had directed hate-related words toward them. In addition, 36% of students reported having seen hate-related graffiti in school (U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Justice, 2000).

Such statistics, along with increasing numbers of minority students in the schools, have stimulated increased attention to multicultural issues in American education (Banks, 1994; King, 1991). Teachers play a critical role as models of how to respond appropriately to expressions of prejudice. Training programs have been designed to help teachers overcome prejudice and respect cultural diversity among their students (Miller, Miller, & Schroth, 1997). Efforts to educate teachers on multicultural issues initially focused on increasing their knowledge about cultural similarities and differences (Pickett, 1995). More recently, experts have recommended that experiential learning will help teachers develop sensitivity/awareness and communications skills (Marshall, 1998; Wiest, 1998) beyond what can be achieved solely through receiving information about different cultures (Buchanan & Midgett, 1997; Pickett, 1995). Experiential education affects teachers at several levels (Nieto, 1996). Through experiential education, teachers can gain knowledge about cultural diversity at a cognitive level, experience diversity at the affective level, and increase their ability to demonstrate multicultural competence at the behavioral level (Buchanan & Midgett, 1997; Pickett, 1995).

The literature on programs designed to overcome prejudice emphasizes the importance of promoting the development of an understanding of the experiences of diverse populations as well as an understanding of personally held values, beliefs, and biases (Locke, 1992; Mathison, 1998; Miller et al., 1997; Ponterotto & Pedersen, 1993; Pope-Davis & Dings, 1995; Rosen, 1993). Allowing people the opportunity to work and interact with those who are culturally different from themselves can lead to more effective learning (Nieto, 1996). …