Video discussion

What is Cultural Humility?: An Interview with Kelly Haynes-Mendez

James M. Lang

James M. Lang

Kelley Haynes-Mendez

Kelley Haynes-Mendez

In this video, James M Lang talks to Kelley Haynes-Mendez about cultural humility and how to apply it in the classroom.
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Click here to view the video transcript

– All right. Greetings. I am Jim Lang and I’m a Professor of the Practice at the Kenab Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Notre Dame. And I’m talking today with Kelly Haynes-Mendez, and she is a creator of a course on Cultural Humility for OneHE, and I will let Kelly introduce herself.

– Thank you so much, Jim. Hi, everyone. I am Kelly Haynes-Mendez. I am a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Practitioner in Dallas, Texas. And I have a history of teaching in higher education as well as organizing professional development and faculty workshops in and around global education.

– Excellent. So I thought your course was fantastic, and the course that you created for OneHE, you sort of noted that cultural humility can be an invitation for faculty to learn. It’s not necessarily a burden, it’s a thing that we can actually use as an invitation for us to grow and learn as educators. So, if we keep ourselves to other culturals, we can continue to our own learning journeys as teachers and as humans. So, what does that learning journey look like for you?

– So, I think you’re sort of bringing up this component of cultural humility, which is lifelong learning, that we never stop learning about ourselves, and other people, and about our teaching. And for me personally, I think that has been very evident across my own experiences both in teaching and in living in a very culturally diverse world. I was born and raised in a very small community in rural southeast Texas, which is in the southern part of the United States. And, in that upbringing, was not exposed to a lot of cultural diversity and differences until I went to graduate school in California, where I was exposed to a multitude of languages and cultures and really began to study multicultural psychology and how those concepts really contribute to community best practices within and across the field of psychology. And really sort of staying open to the learning process, both as a graduate student and subsequently as a teacher of psychology, learning from my students as well as teaching my students. I love to tell this story about a guest lectureship I had in South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa, where I was able to have an opportunity to teach a group of students over the summer. And I took all of my textbooks and a scholarship from a US based context to teach in a multicultural classroom in South Africa. And I’m thinking, “Well, all of these concepts will apply anywhere.” And when I got to South Africa, I realized that some of those concepts are perhaps applicable but are more nuanced within their specific cultural context. And what I learned and sort of embraced in that moment from the perspective of cultural humility is really learning as much from my students about their culture and differences and values, as well as offering and contributing some of the scholarship and expertise from the field that I brought in my textbooks. And so, it was very much a sort of co-learning process. And I think that without that cultural humility component, we would have really lost something that became a really wonderful experience on both sides of that learning process.

– Yeah, that’s a great story. I guess many of us have probably have those experiences of sort of teaching in a different context and realizing, “Oh, wait a minute, I’ve gotta rethink what I’m doing here.” And then you have that openness to it, to sort recognize that this is a valuable experience for me to go through this. And also, my ability to kind of recognize there’s stuff here that I wouldn’t have thought about. And I’m glad now to have thought about it and be challenged by it. So that’s great to hear. In the course, you’ll present some examples of like activities that instructors could use in their courses, and I love, especially the shared identity exercise, that was sort of something I had not heard about. And I want you to sort of tell us about that exercise and maybe also suggest places, like, in a course where that could appear? So it’s sort of easy for me to envision maybe in certain kind of disciplines or maybe certain points of the course, but tell me what are your sort of recommendations for an exercise like that to help bring out the value of cultural humility?

– Sure. So this shared identity exercise is an activity that was developed by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The activity really encourages generosity and an exploration of commonalities. And in this particular activity, we ask the students to write about someone who they perceive as different from themselves. It could even be someone with whom they have’ a particular conflict or cannot see any similarities with. And so we ask them to sort of think about this person and list characteristics of this particular individual. And then the second part of the activity is having them to make a list of the things that they have in common with the person. Are they both parents? Do they share a commonality in terms of upbringing or where they live? Or how they wake up in the morning? And so, in the third piece of the activity, we’re really asking participants to reflect on how they might see the person in a new light then based on those commonalities. A great way I think, to utilize this activity in the classroom is to adapt it to the sort of introduction process in the class. I think that it can be what we call icebreakers at the very beginning to build community and trust and commonality among students. Cultural humility is a concept that is very interdisciplinary. So, anywhere there are other people involved, we can apply principles of cultural humility. So that can be in psychology, but that can also be in STEM or in medicine or other types of disciplines and fields where there is an interpersonal sort of component to the work and to the discipline. I think that another area of practice that instructors have used this very well is in terms of having students engage in what some instructors call stretch activities. So, if there are opportunities in your classroom to offer students opportunities to stretch beyond their strengths and to sort of move into this space of a little bit of discomfort and really going above and beyond their comfort level and sort of moving outside of that, I think that this particular activity for cultural humility and sort of finding commonalities and new perspectives can be a very good opportunity to do that with this particular exercise.

– You know, as an English professor who has taught a lot, like a lot of novels, I can see it actually working with the characters in a novel, right? And so you might feel like sort of put off by the actions of a character. You’re thinking that character is coming from a different culture, that you don’t understand that culture. That could be an interesting exercise in the classroom actually do in a literature course too.

– Right, I agree. Thank you for that. One other opportunity I think that some instructors have utilized that your example brings to mind, is using a case study. So, sort of offering students an example of someone that may be outside of the culture or community of the classroom, and introducing that case study and having students go through this sort of three step process, but using the same case study. And really exploring how students, some students will have some commonalities with the character and other students will have different commonalities and really having a discussion around those aspects of the exercise also.

– Yeah, actually, now that we’re talking about it, I see lots of examples of sort of coming to my mind. A historian could use it, an anthropologist could use this, a marketing professor, like there’s lots of ways that you could actually put into practice.

– Right.

– Yeah, that’s great. So, when I was taking the course on OneHE, I was surprised to see how many comments there were. Like, dozens and dozens about each unit. So, clearly it struck a nerve. A lot of people were interested in the topic and were kind of hoping to learn about cultural humility. So what did you see in those comments? Why do you think it got so much response? And what did you notice as you were people responding to the ideas?

– Yeah, so I wanna sort of acknowledge the interest and the curiosity of the individuals and instructors who have taken the course and really have been energized by the concept of cultural humility. I think it’s a beautiful concept. Again, I think it can be applied across many facets of teaching, but also it can be applied to our personal lives as well. And I’m so thrilled that it has gained the traction, this particular course has gained the traction that it has on the OneHE platform. And so, I think that part of ‘ what is so attractive about cultural humility is that we are perhaps doing many aspects of this already. We are instructors and faculty and teachers, and we want to create an inclusive environment for our students. And I think cultural humility does a good job of leading us in that direction. And so, I’m thrilled that it has been so popular. I also think that cultural humility is a very simple construct with multiple facets, right? It’s straightforward, it’s easily digestible. And I think that many of the comments that we saw in the course are positive in general and also really focus on mutual respect, and also wanting to learn about difference and about cultural diversity.

– Yeah, that’s great. And one final question here, and you kind of brought this up. Like the concept of cultural humility is easy to understand. And there’s, you know, multiple facets to it, as you say. How does it kind of fit in with the sort of the Venn diagram of inclusive teaching and equity minded teaching, and like how does it fit into those with those other kinds of things that we’re all talking about these days?

– Yeah, I think that cultural humility is a means to an end. So, cultural humility is the active practice of creating an inclusive environment and developing belongingness in the classroom. And so these are very, again, specific applications that we can apply in our teaching practice and share with our students as a learning process in order to build trust and to gain the sort of inclusiveness and belongingness that we want to achieve in a more inclusive classroom.

– That’s great. That really helps explain, sometimes people get sort of mixed up by all these terms, and so that’s a really helpful way to think about it.

– Right.

– Okay. So thank you very much. This is great. And I encourage people to take the course and learn from Kelly. And so thanks for taking the time with us today.

– Thank you so much.

In this video, James M Lang, Professor of Practice at the Kaneb Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Notre Dame, USA, talks to psychologist Kelley Haynes-Mendez, USA, about her OneHE course on Applying Cultural Humility In Your Classroom. Kelley explains what cultural humility means and shares a practical activity that can be applied to any discipline to encourage students and faculty to be more supportive and inclusive of others.

Learn more: Applying Cultural Humility In Your Classroom course by Kelley Haynes-Mendez.


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