Dr. Linh Dich: I worked as a professor at Miami University Regionals when I started the Cultural Competence program. In fact, my academic research includes examining race and language practices, and how these intertwining phenomenon function in digital contexts. But issues of diversity mattered to me beyond my research; I wanted to know how we as a community can foster understanding and promote inclusivity among each other, which is why I wanted to be part of the program. Therefore, I expected that my experiences with the Cultural Competence program would be dual in nature. However, my actual experience made me realize some things that books cannot “get at.”
In working with other members in intense 3-hour sessions over last summer, I was struck by the human element and connection that propelled much of the learning of not just diversity, but of each other as people who live and work around us.
Given my background, I expected that I would learn some new approaches to diversity acquisition, but I didn’t expect to struggle with practicing diversity with others. This is to say, in order to truly understand and empathize with others – foundations to practicing diversity – I needed to allow myself to be vulnerable and honest with others. In theory, this may sound easy, but I don’t think that we are good at being vulnerable in this culture. I don’t think that we challenge ourselves to be vulnerable because this is a scary and risky place to inhabit; it requires being okay with being wrong.
Witnessing others go through this process and become vulnerable – that is, to share what may be difficult and to truly listen to what may contradict one’s reality – is what inspired me to move beyond a researcher’s position and to fully engage in this program. In other words, I came to this program thinking that I would not need to work on myself very much, but the practice of being vulnerable allowed me to see how there is always room to change and in ways that were not initially apparent to me.
For instance, I tend to be purpose-driven when leading a discussion and I didn’t realize that my style of communication may prevent some people from voicing their opinions due to my desire to “get things done.” This habit dismisses what can be beneficial perspectives from informing the conversation. I learned to slow down so that others have a chance to think and speak. I believed this practicing of slowing down was something that many of the program’s members learned to develop as the sessions progressed. It was this collective slowing down that also helped shape our group. By becoming aware of how our biases were informing even our own communication and engagement with each other, our group created the space for significant change to happen.
There were so many great moments I experienced from being part of this group, but there was one that really stood out to me: someone in our group admitted his developing awareness of being biased against Muslim people. I recall how this person took some pains to admit that he had visceral responses to a Muslim coworker whenever this coworker walked pass him or talked during meetings. This was a significant turning point for me and, I believe, for the whole group.
To speak for myself, I took this moment as courageous because I think that people are afraid of being labeled as racist, let alone admit to one’s racism. But to be able to admit to one’s “blind spots” is not only courageous, it becomes the foundation for change. For me, the most powerful thing that I will take away from the Cultural Competence program is understanding and practicing that we are all biased in some way. But it is the continuous work of checking in on oneself and allowing for honest, vulnerable and deep reflection with others that can lead to change in both ourselves and our broader community.
Dr. Linh Dich is an associate professor in the Department of Languages, Literature, and Writing and the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Miami University Regionals.