top of page

The Centrality of Multicultural Humility in Higher Education Practice

Since the announcement of the Trump/Pence ticket for the 2016 presidential election, I have been deeply pondering my role in continuing to advocate for the needs of 'undocumented,' Muslim, ethnic minority, and LGBTQ+ students. This prompted the development of the following list.

To be culturally humble is to espouse a discrete set of values:

  1. I don't need to have experienced someone's reality to believe and respect their lived reality when they communicate it to me.

  2. As I can only experience my cultural identities, I am incapable of knowing, from lived experience, what another's life is truly like. By accepting this state of being, I create perceptual access to an advanced form of empathy called interpathy.

  3. If I step on the toes of another, I am responsible for the pain I caused, whether I did so with or without intention.

  4. While I may be entitled to my lived experiences and the opinions inherent therein, I am not entitled to my own set of facts.

  5. In keeping with this value, I am responsible to become and remain as informed as possible. This means reading and interpreting qualitative and quantitative findings, while having lived, personal experiences with culturally different others.

  6. There is no hierarchy of oppression in as much as sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, racism, classism, religious oppression, adultism, ageism, and ableism are received as approximately equal threats to one's identities, and thus one's humanity.

How does this look in practice?

I will briefly describe some best practices related to one role in higher education, the professoriate.


Faculty are charged with an immense amount of responsibility. Those faculty who are advocates on a tenure track can be challenged in numerous ways to maintain their prosocial perspectives. For one, the incentive structures are often misaligned, wherein one is rewarded for academic product well above and beyond service. With so many responsibilities, and so little time, how can one show up for students in a way that is both challenging and supportive?

As those with the responsibility to add to the extant literature, we must collect data in ways that reflect the best available diversity science. By doing so, we indirectly benefit our diverse community of learners, by seeking to represent their interests and identities in the literature in the most accurate ways. One way to do so is to ask demographic questions in construct pure ways. The absolute easiest way to do this in quantitative research using an online survey tool is to ask participants to write in their own identities. If we instead elect to provide options, these options need to reflect the literature on identities. Therefore, asking a participant to identify their gender on a list that includes male and female is construct impure, as these terms reflect sex, not gender. Additionally, they represent an inaccurate binary, excluding the experiences of intersex, intergender, and trans* humans.

Here is a sample of the identities that could be used to reflect gender diversity most accurately.

Please identify your gender from the following list.

  • Woman

  • Man

  • Transgender

  • Intergender

  • Genderqueer

  • Genderfluid

  • Agender/Genderless

  • If your gender has not been represented in this list, please communicate it in the space provided.

We should also collect data in ways that allow persons to select more than one identity, particularly with regard to race/ethnicity, and report these findings in ways that don't group them into oppressive categories. For example, the category "Asian" often needs to be disaggregated into it's component parts, because to be Vietnamese is quite different than to be Nepalese. One best makes this decision by identifying their target sample. For example, if this is college/university psychology undergraduates, enrollment data is that source. If it is a national sample, the census is that source.


We faculty have an immense amount of power when it comes to our students, regardless of our rank and FTE status. This does not mean different levels of do not exist, but points out the value of owning your role as a powerful professional in the lives of students. We use this power most responsibly when we can offer students challenge and support in approximately equal measure. To do so, we can establish a tone of safety, civility, and critical inquiry. One way to do this is by using our voices to respond to bias incidents. Students' academic self concept is often largely in our hands, and can leave those with marginalized identities feeling quite dehumanized when we add to the challenges related to stereotype threat and minority identity development, challenges students with a higher percentage of dominant cultural identities do not face.

Often having individual power to select texts, images to put in lectures slides, and videos. I believe it is valuable to consider ways to reach individuals while also engaging in harm reduction. An example of this is choosing to show the TedTalk of a feminist scholar who identifies as a person of color. This demonstrates to your students, without explanation, that you understand intersectionality. This small gesture can go a long way.

This brief foray was in no way intended to be comprehensive. Instead, to provide an example of the small ways in which we can improve the cultural integrity of our work to better meet the needs of our students. The conversation on faculty practices will continue in forthcoming posts. These posts will also begin a conversation about the role of staff and administrators in the conversation on culture, inclusion, and diversity on college/university campuses.

bottom of page