Teaching Cultural Diversity to College Students Majoring in Helping Professions: The Use of an Eco-Strengths Perspective

Article excerpt

This article illustrates an alternative and exciting perspective for students majoring in the helping professions to learn about cultural diversity. The eco-strengths perspective that is interactive in nature is described along with how it can effectively prepare students to work with culturally diverse individuals, families, and groups in the helping professions. Several eco-strengths based, interactive cultural learning exercises are explained that would benefit helping profession majors as they prepare to enter the workforce.

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As college students prepare to work with culturally diverse populations, it is important to create effective learning environments within and outside the classroom. This article will illustrate an eco-strengths perspective and how students can utilize it as they prepare to work in the helping professions field. Another goal of the article will be to display several eco-strengths based cultural learning interactive exercises that will benefit helping profession majors as they prepare to enter the workforce.

At the dawn of a new millennium, United States colleges and universities stand at a crossroad in effectively preparing college students who are majoring in the helping profession fields and will work with a variety of culturally diverse families, children, youth, older adults, and other individuals. Students majoring in: family studies, child development, social work, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and other fields, often are required or encouraged to register for courses in cultural diversity that will help them work with diverse populations. A challenge for college faculty is to continue to build on existing models and create new perspectives in the cultural diversity learning process. The eco-strengths perspective provides a unique lens in understanding cultural diversity.

Defining the Eco-Strengths Perspective

The eco-strengths perspective is based on the assumption that all families and individuals have strengths. This process explores family dynamics through a systemic lens, which includes the individual, family, community, and society. Those strengths may include a family's adaptation and resilience when faced with limited resources. Another strength in families and individuals is the social and cultural capital that is provided by extended family and fictive kin. For example, research has demonstrated that extended family and fictive kin have been pivotal in the success of African American and Latino families over generations (Sudarkasa, 2000; Zuniga, 1998). The strengths of a community are comprised of a mosaic of individuals, families, social and religious groups, private businesses, and public servants. As a result these interconnected relationships have demonstrated the power of social networks despite the conditions. Another assumption of the eco-strengths perspective is that families and individuals bring an expertise to their unique situation and when given the opportunity, they can competently define their needs. This assumption illustrates a process described as "wraparound" which positions families or individuals as partners with helping professionals rather than passive recipients (Handron, Dosser, McCammon, & Powell, 1998). Thus, the eco-strengths perspective focuses on how families, individuals and communities empower themselves and demonstrate resiliency rather than focusing on deficits or pathologies such as absent parents, impoverished situations, or other familial and social issues (Hildebrand, Phenice, Gray, and Hines, 2000).

Teaching the Eco-Strengths Perspective

The course, Families and Cultural Diversity has been a new beginning for college students who have never adventured in understanding different and diverse cultures. Cultural diversity is a sensitive topic in the United States, and students may be hesitant to participate in class discussions or exercises in fear of offending one of their peers. …

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