Cultural identity development is linked to critical
thinking and intercultural competence. This chapter
articulates those connections and describes strategies
for dealing with difference effectively in the classroom.
Expressing Cultural Identity
in the Learning Community:
Opportunities and Challenges
Anna M. Ortiz
One of the most persistent and problematic dilemmas I have experienced as a university faculty member is teaching and dealing with difference in the classroom. There are moments when I feel pride and success with the challenges my students embrace and conquer with grace and intelligence, but those times are far outweighed by moments of silence, misunderstanding, and anger. When a faculty member “allows” cultural identity and its associated issues to take center stage in the classroom, the outcome is always tenable. Because of the risk inherent in addressing and promoting cultural identity, many faculty members choose not to “go there.” Excluding these different perspectives produces outcomes that are more troublesome than those that arise through taking the risk. Inhibiting the expression of cultural identity in the classroom denies learning opportunities that not only promote the development of complex meaning-making but also strengthens students’ sense of self and furthers the acquisition of the types of competence needed to thrive in a diverse world community. In this chapter, I address some of the common areas of difficulty when infusing cultural identity in learning communities by sharing the insights I have gained through both research and classroom teaching.
I begin by sharing the development of my own perspectives about cultural identity. Anyone who chooses to step in front of a classroom and actively pursue these topics needs to engage in an examination of his or her own cultural identity. It cannot be subject matter that stands removed from the self. Faculty members who neglect this self-exploration run the risk of