Cultural competence is the key to thriving in culturally diverse environments, and it can be learned, practiced, and institutionalized to better serve diverse populations. Cultural competence aids us and our ability to successfully work with those who come from a culture or cultures other than our own. It entails developing certain personal and interpersonal awareness and sensitivities, understanding certain bodies of cultural knowledge, and mastering a set of skills that allow for effective cross-cultural and culturally responsive teaching.
Cultural competence doesn't occur as a result of a single day of training, or reading a book, or taking a course. We can become culturally competent over time, and researchers suggest some places to start. There are five basic cultural competence skill areas that can be learned by individual educators as well as educational systems as a whole. While this is just a starting point, remember that growth in one area tends to support growth in another. These skills include valuing diversity, being culturally self-aware, respecting difference, becoming student focused, adapting to diversity.
Cultural proficiency is a step above and beyond being culturally competent. It's taking your understanding of individual difference and using that knowledge to implement change. It could be through using more inclusive language on a daily basis. It could be through advocating for policy changes that better represent the people the that policies affect. In short, there are so many social justice issues that affect us on a daily basis, and the best social justice advocate is a culturally proficient social justice advocate!
There are many ways in which someone can be an advocate. For some, it means a public demonstration with a picket sign, and for others, it can be a subtle as lending a shoulder to cry on. Over the last ten years, I have assumed a variety of advocacy roles including work as an LGBTQ Campus Mentor for undergraduate students struggling with their identity, advisor for identity-based student groups, and as a Safe Zone Facilitator for LGBTQ inclusive spaces. In my current position at Louisiana State University, I work as the Assistant Director of Multicultural Affairs, and I advocate for students daily by advising student organizations, calling for inclusive policies that strive for equitable treatment, and by celebrating diversity in all of it's forms. In May, 2013 I was awarded Manchester University's Multicultural Advocacy Award for my dedication to raising awareness of diversity on and around campus.