Post #2 Involvement in Diversity Experiences: Fostering the Development of Critical Thinking

It is always imperative to identify causes before finding a solution as the wrong solution, brought by misinterpreted cause could bring about further problems. The nature and nurture debate of an individual’s development has been investigated for centuries. Rather than looking at the genetic factors of development, I am more interested in environmental development. This is because understanding the genetic factors cannot help change anything about the people in the present. For example, I know that my IQ is just over the standard rate of 100, perhaps scientists can create new technology or even medicines to aid future infant’s IQ, but this will not likely happen for me. Instead, understanding how the environment influences the way individuals view the world can assist research to improve existing problems more. So here I would like to ask a question: would experiencing diversity help learners to improve their critical thinking skills?

Importance of Experiencing Diversity

The dynamics of personal experiences and the ways of being taught to view differences are what learners will explore to achieve lucidity to a complicated subject. This clarity aids learners to exclude prejudice and discrimination from their beliefs, and also increase their self-confidence (Nagda et al., 2004). Exposure to diversity is crucial for building a good connection with members in domestic or international groups.

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Castania (1996) proposed two main dimensions of diversity to help explain the theory, known as international diversity and domestic diversity. International diversity is to explore the cultural differences outside one’s country. Through exploring the outside world, it is possible to heighten individuals’ awareness of differences and gain the opportunities of being outsiders, experiencing how the other social group of individuals behave and think differently from their own perspectives. Fundamentally however, these experiences may give the learners a false message about different cultures if they only examine the diversity by the most manifest differences. An example of this would be that learners can get the impression of Japanese by eating sushi and watching animations, and they then assume that the whole population of Japanese is big anime fans. How can people make assumption by knowing only one or two things about a culture?

Being an international student, I have had the chance to experience the British culture for the past two years. Not only did I stand out in this culture, I also experienced the feeling and the pain of being discriminated as a minority. The discrimination came from those people who seem to have a misunderstanding of my culture. For example, many white adolescents are brought up with social websites (i.e. Facebook) and film portrayals of individuals from different cultures, like Africa and China that were shaped and framed from a restrictive perspective. Asians, in many American movies, were shown or viewed as unintegrated into the western culture, or restricted to lower-class occupations when compared to white people (i.e. restaurant worker, laundry worker, gangsters). This cultural-identity approach negates the authentic relationships and the deeper sides of another culture. Is it possible for media to learn balance between the restrictive images of minority races? If only there was an opportunity for them to communicate and better understand my culture, perhaps then they would know that only a very minority of us consume dog meat and bear paws.

It is also critical to understand the differences inside the community that the learners grow up, because individuals are genetically different from each other, and being influenced by dynamics of environments. Domestic diversity allows learners to explore individual similarities and differences, not just limited to the other ethnic cultures (Castania, 1996). The social groups within one community can be defined by gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, education level, and socio-economic status, etc (Bennett & Bennett, 2004).  Having a deep understanding of the domestic differences can increase learners’ sensitivity to international diversity, enabling them the chance to gain a larger identity to represent their country more appropriately.

How Diversity Experiences Help on Critical Thinking

The body of research that investigates on the effect of diversity experience on school outcomes is quite big (Kuklinski, 2006; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). However, there are not many evidences that draw on specific relationship between diversity experience and critical thinking until the last decade. Gurin et al. (2002) brought out this issue, and pointed out that learners tend to participate in more deep and complex modes of thought, when communicating with more individuals from diverse cultures in a school setting. The diverse peers offer unfamiliar situations or new beliefs for learners, which would challenge the current thinking modes in their cognitive development and therefore provide them opportunities to learn.

According to Erikson (1956), experience diversity is most influential for university students because studying university is a developmental stage that provides them much freedom to generate more innovative ideas, and involvement in different social roles (i.e. students, student representatives, volunteers, society members, peer guides). Zuniga, Williams, and Berger (2005) implemented the teaching content, assignments and group discussions as assessments for 597 university students to experience diversity. The finding of their research indicated that students are more willing to accept different perspectives and eliminate their discrimination.

In one of the most recent research, Loes et al (2012) were focused interested in the effect of diversity experience on critical thinking skills. They used 4,501 college students from 19 institutions on critical thinking tests in two periods (fall 2006 and spring 2007). As a result, their findings were aligned with Zuniga, Williams and Berger (2003), that high exposure to diversity help learners to generate a more complex form of thought, or critical thinking. It was a good research because that some problematic methodological processes had been amended. The reliability was higher as they assessed the data not only by collecting questionnaires, but also included the control of any potential confounding variables to minimize the errors (i.e. residence arrangement, and time spent for the class preparation); whereas its sample size was large to allow generalization to the college population.

Application of Diversity Experience in Bangor University

It is acknowledged that psychology research is famous in Bangor University, and I believe that good critical thinking skill is one of the key factors to high quality research. Have our educators applied any diverse experiences in our education program to make us think more critically?

The composition of diverse peers is quite small in the psychology department, as I remembered, the rates of students of other colors is not over 10% for my entry year. However, this is a factor that educators cannot control. Therefore, the educators have to deliberately implement various elements in the design of the course, in order to foster the development of critical thinking. In the year one module Scientific Writing and Communication I/II, one of the assignments is to write on a controversial debate: “do beautiful people deserve to be more successful?”, and it utilised diversity where learners need to think about different perspectives of how to define success. As for year two, the teaching contents of Social Psychology module allow us to understand dimensions of domestic diversity and international diversity, with topics such as “intra-group”, “inter-group”, “prejudice” and “discrimination”, etc. Currently in the third year, students are allowed to select modules based on their own interests. Most of these year three modules provide opportunities for students to involve into debates, since there are seminars/group works for each module. Students can challenge/ perceive new ideas from their peers, that allow them to think in a more complex and critical form.

 

References:

  1. Bennett, J. M,  & Bennett, M. J. (2004). Developing Intercultural Sensitivity: An Integrative Approach to Global and Domestic Diversity. Retrieved from: http://www.academia.edu/465870/An_Integrative_Approach_to_Global_and_Domestic_Diversity
  2. Castania, K. (1996). Diversity Fact Sheet #1: What is Diversity?. New York: Cornell University. Retrieved from: http://counties.cce.cornell.edu/chemung/general/publications/what-is-diversity.pdf
  3. Gurin, P., Dey, E. L., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G. (2002). Diversity and High Education: Theory and Impact on Educational Outcomes. Harvard Educational Review, 72, 330-366.
  4. Hu, S., & Kuh, G. D., (2003). Diversity Experiences and College Student Learning and Personal Development. Journal of College Student Development, 4(3), 320-334.
  5. Kuklinski, J. H. (2006). The scientific study of campus diversity and students’ educational outcomes. Public Opinion Quarterly, 70(1), 99-120.
  6. Loes, C., Pascarella, E., & Umbach, P. (2012). Effects of Diversity Experiences on Critical Thinking Skills. Who Benefits?. The Journal of Higher Education, 83(1), 1-25.
  7. Nagda, B. A., Kim, C., & Truelove, Y. (2004). Learning about difference, learning to connect, learning to transgress. Journal of Social Issues, 60(1), 195-214.
  8. Pascarella, E., & Terenzini, P. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  9. Zuniga, X., Williams, E. A., & Berger, J. B. (2005). Action-oriented democratic outcomes: The impact of student involvement with campus diversity. Journal of College Student Development, 46, 660-678.
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3 thoughts on “Post #2 Involvement in Diversity Experiences: Fostering the Development of Critical Thinking

  1. Brislin and Yoshida (1994) contend that culture can be defined as any framework of expectations and values. Our ability to function effectively in an environment depends upon our skill in recognizing and responding appropriately to the values and expectations of those around us. Landis and Bhagat (1996) argue that intercultural sensitivity is crucial to enabling people to live and work with others from different cultural backgrounds. As our workplace and society become more diverse, and as globalization of business intensifies, an individual’s sensitivity to cultural differences combined with an ability to adapt his or her behavior to those differences will become increasingly valuable.

    While there is an almost universal call for greater cultural awareness, the mechanism for achieving this aim has been a subject of considerable discussion. Suggested alternatives range from presentation of materials on different cultures in a domestic classroom environment to actual exposure and direct involvement with different cultures in foreign locations. Although few, if any, authorities argue against travel abroad as a means of improving cultural sensitivity, there is some support for the belief that increases in intercultural sensitivity can be achieved through education and training, without the need for foreign travel.

  2. This post is quite long (1250 words) and exceeds the word count limit that is defined by around 500 words. However, it addresses a very interesting topic related to diversity experiences and critical thinking. The structure of the posting is well organized and the flow of the ideas is very fluent. What captured my attention is the way the author analyzed how some cultures have a prejudice about other cultures, including Asian cultures, based on superficial and irrelevant criteria such as movies. I do share the author the same feeling of being treated differently, not to say being discriminated. This feeling stems from the fact that I belong to a minority group myself as I am an Arab and the society views Arabs as being a threat to it due to the association of Arabs with acts of terror, especially in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. Another prejudice about Arabs by Western cultures is the image of the desert, camels, and Bedouins’ clothes. This notion is reinforced by how the media portrays the Arabs and creates biased stereotypical images of them in the movies and books, just to mention some.
    I agree that the key solution to such prejudice and stereotypical thinking is the initiation of critical thinking through experiencing diversity on the personal as well as collective levels. This can start at schools, universities, and the workplace. Critical thinking leads to give up prior ideas, notions, and perspectives that certain societies have towards other societies on the one hand and motivates the minds of individuals to search for the objective reality of the others instead of just judging them based on movies!

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