Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Exist-Culturalism: A Philosophical Framework

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Exist-Culturalism: A Philosophical Framework

Article excerpt

This article presents a philosophical framework that educators and student affairs professionals might use in their current practices to enhance multicultural and diversity programs and overall campus climate. This philosophical framework purports to create an intellectual discourse about the needs and the outcomes of services, programs, and courses beyond traditional multiculturalism and diversity perspectives. It is by no means meant to offend or replace multiculturalism or diversity initiatives, rather it is to be used as a supplement for those programs and services.

This article introduces a philosophical framework that begins with self in understanding and empathizing with multiple cultural perspectives. This article may be thought of as a simple form of "interpretive research." Denzin (1989) categorizes interpretive research as inextricably linked to the researcher's life and the purpose of such work is to construct detailed experiences that the researcher has witnessed. Further, he claims that the focus of interpretive research is from life's experiences that change the meaning people give to themselves and their experiences. Because exist-culturalism begins with self, it is very important that I include my own experiences as examples in this article and speak from a first-person narrative or voice at times to demonstrate concern. The framework, in essence, comes forth from a lifetime of experiences with multiple cultures and methods of teaching multiculturalism and diversity.

In this article, I first will discuss the meaning of a university as it relates to diversity. Second, concerns about multiculturalism and diversity are discussed and followed by the introduction of exist-culturalism. Implications for student affairs and conclusions are given on how to best utilize the philosophical framework in day-to-day practices.

Institutions in the twentieth century have had to deal with very difficult decisions regarding diversity and multiculturalism. In fact, mission statements for institutions of higher education continue to be ambiguous and evasive in defining exactly who they are and what their role is in this age of adaptations to technology, demographics, and societial changes. Most institutions' mission statements emphasize that students, teaching, community, and diversity are at the top of their lists, yet their values and reward structures are not reflective of them. Many institutions of higher education have become administrative and academic silos with little cohesiveness. Hence, Strenski (1993) believes that institutions of higher education have trouble perceiving themselves as communities because they have lost faith in the seriousness of their mission.

The historical context of a university, in a global sense, has diversity as its seam. For example, Newman (1901) reports that:

our student has determined on entering himself as a disciple of Theophrastus, a teacher of marvelous popularity, who has brought together two thousand pupils from all parts of the world. He himself is of Lesbos; for masters, as well as students, come hither from all regions of the earth, as befits a University. It is the range of territory, which the notion of a University implies, which furnished both the quantity of the one, and the quality of the other. Anaxagoras was from Ionia, Carneades from Africa, Zeno from Cyprus, Protagoras from Thrace, and Gorgias from Sicily. (p.60)

There was no hatred or bitterness directed against professors or students because they were not Athenian; genius and talent were the qualifications to contribute to the university. To bring various cultures from regions of the world was to pay homage to Athens and the university. "There was a brotherhood and a citizenship of mind". (p. 60)

As pressures regarding individual and group differences build in the United States, institutions of higher education struggle with their role in a multicultural society (Manning, 1994; Manning & Coleman-Boatwright, 1991; Stage & Hamrick, 1994; Watson, 1995). …

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