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TitleThe journey of developing multicultural competence: a phenomenological exploration of lived
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                            Dissertation May 13  Pretext Pages II.pdf
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Page 2

AN ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION OF



Serena Ota St. Clair for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

in Education presented

on April 30, 2007.

Title: The Journey of Developing Multicultural Competence:

A Phenomenological Exploration of Lived Experience

in Student Affairs Professionals



Abstract approved:

_____________________________________

LARRY D. ROPER



Prior research has noted the changing demographics of higher education since the

Civil Rights Movement and the expanded need for multicultural education. Armando

Hernandez Morales (2003) wrote that, “A multiculturally competent person is aware of

and knowledgeable about cultural differences, their own cultural identity, and the history

and contemporary struggles of marginalized groups” (Morales, retrieved 2005). This

study adds to the field by examining the life experiences that led to the development of

multicultural competence in student affairs professionals using a qualitative research

method. Seven co-researchers were selected from a pool of 17 adults who were currently

working or had recently worked in student affairs and who had been nominated by their

peers for demonstrating multicultural competencies. Each of the co-researchers was

posed with five prompts. The co-researchers’ responses were recorded, transcribed,

reviewed by the co-researcher, and then analyzed using phenomenology, a qualitative

research method outlined by Moustakas (1994). The first step in this process was the

Epoche, where the researcher disclosed her personal relationship to the questions.

Themes from the interviews were clustered into 14 themes that were then categorized

into three realms: personal, professional, and structural/institutional. The research

concluded, within the personal realm, that the development of multicultural competence

begins with a personal awareness of one’s own multicultural background and an internal

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as I listened to her perceptions of a Midwestern mindset and how to work with it in

resourceful and constructive ways, it gave me great insight to her multicultural

competence. I gave her a Reike candle for wisdom. Her commitment to students is crystal

clear and it is her words that inspired the theme “Students as Teachers.”



Individual structural description. Lita is a consummate professional who is

keenly adept at using her positional power, her ability to inspire and collaborate, and her

expert sense of how to innovate within a system to address the promotion of social justice

in community colleges. “I’m in higher education because I truly believe that education, as

much education as you want, is the basic right of every single person. I believe that

education is a means to a better life…people should have the ability to self-actualize.

This is a very individual goal for people.” Lita’s educational background provided the

backdrop for her progressive foundation. Her undergraduate college was a religiously

affiliated institution that provided her with a strong liberal arts education that encouraged

critical thinking and free thought in an atmosphere of social justice awareness. Her

graduate education in counseling contributed to her empathic connections to others with

“unconditional regard” and learning that challenged personal bias by identification with a

code of ethics. Her first paid job at a college was in a student disability office and it was

there that her advocacy experience became active.

I went through that period of time in the early 80’s, when there were a lot
of cutbacks in social programming. I remember having students come in to
my office with letters from social security administration stating that they
were no longer disabled and these were people who were in wheelchairs
that really could not work full-time work. And so the whole social justice
thing sort of kicked in for me in the early 80’s when I began working with
students with disabilities, and of course 504 was very new. Colleges were
trying to figure out what the heck they were going to do. In doing that, at
that point in my career, I truly was an advocate, but I also was a teacher. I
was a teacher because you’re dealing with fear and you’re dealing with the
unknown, you’re dealing with anxiety, and you’re dealing with, well,
“Why do I have to provide this particular accommodation for this
person?”

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When Lita became a Dean for Student Affairs she had to represent student issues

to the administration. As a leader in higher education, she remains committed to listening

to students, advocating for their voice to be heard, and making sure their needs are a part

of the agenda for student affairs.

There was a time where we had a student organization for gay and lesbian
students, and they wanted to call it the Queer Student Alliance. My
response to this was that when I grew up “queer” was a very bad word.
You did not call anyone queer. That was, like a very, very derogatory
word. [So I talked to the advisor and] I went down and I talked to the
students, and I thought, “I can do this.” But…my parents brought me up to
never use derogatory language against other people. So it was really hard
for me at the time. Of course, now…I can handle this term just fine, so the
students did a good job [educating me]. But what happened was our
president could not deal with it…And finally, at one point, I just went to
him and I said, you know what, this isn’t about you. This isn’t about me,
this is about our students, and what they’re comfortable with, what their
culture says is acceptable, and the way it’s going to be. He never liked it.
But they got to keep their new name.

Lita’s multicultural competency was tested when she left the northwest and

moved to a mid-western state where she had to read and lead a new culture. She caught

on quite quickly. Assessing the subtleties of culture she used words like “interesting and

fascinating” as she described the diversity issues present in her new home territory. What

impressed me about her leadership style was that she worked on systemic changes at her

large college incorporating diversity, inclusion, community input, globalization, civic

engagement, and progressive hiring practices, diversify part time faculty, developing

resources, aligning allies, and working with a comprehensive vision.

When I start thinking about it, we’ve been able to make a difference. It’s a
cultural shift, and a cultural shift is not about activities, it’s about what’s
in your heart, it’s about your values, and so even though we’ve done the
activities piece, we still have a long way to go in relationship to changing
the culture and cultural expectations. But we’re working on it and people
are thinking about it now, and they are beginning to understand the
importance of it and they are seeing different faces in their classes than
they have ever seen before.

The significance of Lita’s early opportunities to bring on new initiatives for

equality remains a pattern in her life. She understands the process and continues to use

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Experience of inequity due to being a lesbian (M)
Challenging authority (M)
Fear of reprisal (M)
Students as teachers (L)
Creating safety among individuals and groups to express and be (M)
Exposure to all kinds (M)
Finding similarities (LtG)
Sharing information dialogue (S)
Symbolic interaction changes minds (N)
Understanding others (N)


12. Understanding Oppression: Personal Experience Facilitates Skill Development

Power and Oppression (M)
Hate crime (M)
Critical moments strategy (Sh)
Oppression because of Affirmative action (Sh)
Do I really belong here? (Sh)
Sabotage as a tactic of oppression (M)
Threatened (M)
Racial oppression and it’s blow to identity (LtG)
Power of language (LtG)
What’s in a name? (LtG-S)
Oppression through the ages (LtG)
Covert Bias (S)
Oppression & Racism/powerful impression (N)
Affirmative action/misunderstood & misused (N-Sh)
Vindication (M)
Cultural Suspicion (N)


13. What The Face Of Intelligence Looks Like: Issues of Race, Gender, Sexual

Orientation, (Dis)Ability, and Class
Assumptions and burdens for people of color (N)
Growing up black and female (N)
Immigrated in a suitcase (S)
Belonging to a card carrying minority (LtG)
Institutional Racism (LtG) (CJ)
Response to Inequity (CJ)
Racist Myth development (M)
Mixed Race Confusion (Sh)
White women multicultural lens (Sh)
Tokenism trap (Sh)
Internalized racism (Sh)
Racial Identification & Political Alignment (Sh)
Gender Inequity (M)

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Women’s leadership Psyche & patterns (CJ)
Work with domestic and sexual violence (M)
Victim Offender evolution question (M)
Gender attitudes-sexism from parents (Sh)
Women’s Studies opened my eyes (Sh)
Lesbian Leadership (CJ)
Shifting styles from male to female leadership (CJ)
Black attitude toward white women (Sh)
Physical adjustment (L)
Understanding white privilege (CJ)
White privilege overrides even in cultural pluralism class (S)
Class Consciousness (M)
When Class trumps color (S)
Civilized superiority of indigenous cultures (LtG)


14. Social Justice For All: Advocacy and Justice as Underpinning of Work

Social Justice definition on the continuum (LtG)
Social Justice by Inclusion (LtG)
Social Justice originates in professional advocacy (L)
Social Justice belief and understanding (M)
Social Movement engagement (M)
Social Climate around issues (M)
Deep connection with social justice-social action (M)
When MLK Jr. died- Era of socialization (M)
Youthful awakening for social justice (CJ)
Assassination era: Kennedy & King (L)
Social Justice VS multicultural competence (S)
Professional decision to work with underprivileged students (Sh)
Running from the Law (N)

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