The Importance of Cultural Humility

[Slide stating, “Conversations about Culture: The Importance of Cultural Humility” – music playing] [Sarah speaking] This segment explores the concept of cultural humility. What is cultural humility? How is it different than
cultural competence? Cultural competence emphasizes a knowledge of other
populations and a set of finite skills. Cultural humility on the other hand is
about an ongoing process that we engage in. Cultural humility is really a process
of self-reflection and self-critique, taking a learner’s stance and seeking to
address and redress structural inequality. Our goal in employing a
stance of cultural humility is to position ourselves, not as experts, but as
people interested in learning and understanding. It’s really about being
curious and acknowledging difference. We spoke to a variety of people for their
perspective on cultural humility. [Slide with picture of Stephanie Vroman-Goodrich, LMSW, 2010] Stephanie Vroman-Goodrich is a social worker who spent time abroad in Macedonia with the Peace Corps. She also completed her Social Work field placement abroad. Stephanie elaborates on the distinction between cultural competence and cultural humility. [Stephanie speaking] When I was in school, cultural competency was pushed a lot and there were books that
we were given to study up on different cultures and groups so that we could
have a better understanding when we were working with people; and while I think
that there’s value to that as well and having background information about
cultures, this idea of cultural humility is really neat to me because it kind of
forces the social worker to step back and think this person is the expert on
their culture and there’s so many subgroups within cultures and what I may
think of their culture may be very different from how they identify with it so really stepping back and making the client the expert and asking
them about their background and how, how they see their culture is going to be
important and having some of that background knowledge is good as well so
you’re familiar with things but I think culture humility is a good direction for
social workers to take because it really puts the client in the position of expert. [Slide with picture of Kathleen Kost, PhD, Associate Professor”] [Sarah speaking] We asked UB School of Social Work professor Kathleen Kost about the role cultural humility plays in practice. Doctor Kost latest research focuses on
community development initiatives in Tanzania and she has supervised MSW
students who have had placements abroad. Here she talks with Laura Lewis,
assistant dean for global partnerships and director of field education. Doctor Kost had the following to say about cultural humility in the context of a field
placement. If we’re going to be culturally competent with the people we
provide services to or that we want to work with out in the community, we have to be able to be silent to their stories. [Dr. Kost laughing] There has to be that sense of what we don’t, you know, maybe we don’t have all the answers and to me that’s what cultural humility is. It’s allowing those opportunities to search for those answers, to ask some
questions that maybe the individual has never asked before. [Laura speaking] It really is interesting. I think students so often want, um, you know, want to be able to do something and the
idea of sitting with, um. You know, it’s that piece about ambiguity too and not
knowing. It’s very uncomfortable anyway for students, um, but to sort of convince
them that it’s actually a strength you know; I’ve come to talk to them about it as just, you know, how important it is just
to be present. [Dr. Kost speaking] Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. [Laura speaking] Like you know you don’t have to go in to field knowing a lot, but can you
be present? Can you really be present because that will make such a difference. [Dr. Kost speaking] Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. [Laura speaking] It’s sort of the same kind of thing how you teach someone to take a
not knowing stance. [Dr. Kost speaking] Well and just to be curious. So it’s uncomfortable for us to not have any answer, to not be able to fix it, you
know, and…and so that idea of being curious to, so what is that about for
them? If we’re going to be present to somebody we have to be genuine, right? So that
means we have to be, we also then have to be curious about it. But we have
to, to what is that phrase, lean into the discomfort. We have to be able to be vulnerable. One has to be
humble. We have to announce that we may not be as skilled as we think we are. [Dr. Kost laughing] [Laura speaking] It’s true. [Dr. Kost speaking] You
know? But that takes a constant insight and reflection and time on the part of
whoever the practitioner is. [Slide with picture of Razak Nzor, MSW, 2016] [Sarah speaking] Razak Nzor, currently an advanced year student in the MSW program, adds another perspective. A political science major,
Razak comes from Kumasi, Ghana and lived in the Bronx, before coming to Buffalo. He
has experience with rural communities in Ghana and refugee children and
adolescents in Buffalo. I asked Razak how cultural humility applies to his
practice as a social worker. [Razak speaking] My understanding of cultural humility has to do with a lifetime commitment to delivering services to
people that are different from where you come from, different from the background that you have. Not letting anything stop you from
delivering services to you, having that knowledge alone, [inaudible], I mean kind of
saying you can make impact in the lives of people. But humility, you understand the
affection of people that is when I think you can really make impact. So when it comes down to the individual, I mean you can’t force someone to, you know, do what is
not part of him or her. Some people always preach about, I mean preach against racism, against all these diversity issues, but in, I mean inside
them, you don’t see them kind of standing for it as they supposed to. So how come you
have this idea? I mean you are culturally competent, you have these [inaudible] you know the, the pros and cons of these kind of things but
how come we still having them in our societies. And I think it comes down to the person. [Slide with picture of Annie Bruns, MSW, 2016] [Sarah speaking] Annie Bruns is an advanced year MSW student focusing on gender, sex education and policy change. In talking about her time living abroad, she reminds
us that it’s important to work collaboratively with communities. [Annie speaking] Having lived in other countries and, um, you know, day to day life and just that things are
very different and you can’t really take things for granted or when you do
sometimes that comes back to haunt you and you get yourself mixed up in all
these things and so, I, um, I think those are things that I try to think about
when working with you know different populations that I’m not sure I know
what that situation is like somewhere else, and so on some level I can
empathize with what some of those things might be, but also that I’m not, I’m not
that person. I’m not, you know,
I don’t come from a lot of these different communities that I do work
with. And just that it’s important that they have their own voice and if they
feel like that is something that’s, that’s heard. [Sarah speaking] An important point to make is that we can never make assumptions about people. Here is Stephanie again. You know it takes time for people to trust you and really feel like you understand
them. I think it was interesting because as I’m making friends and building
relationships in Macedonia, I have some of the things from my cultural classes
in the back of my mind. But when I would ask a friend about that they would laugh
and say I don’t identify with that, that’s not me, that’s, that’s something
that’s traditional in my culture but that’s not something I believe in or I
practice or I agree with. So it’s important to not make assumptions and to always ask somebody how they identify and how they see themselves and how
their, their experience was growing up and how they perceive themselves now. So
I think that’s been really important and I think it’s good when somebody asks me,
you know, are you familiar with this ball and, you know, it’s good to have
background knowledge of some of what people are talking about but then to
also say, yeah I’m familiar with it but tell me what that means to you or tell
me what with that experience has meant to you. [Sarah speaking] So it really is stepping away
from this notion of social worker as expert. [Stephanie speaking] I think it’s foolish to ever
think that you know everything about a certain culture. I think it’s really
important to really just make the client the expert as we’ve been saying. [Slide with picture of Sarah Richards-Desai, MSW, 2016] [Sarah speaking] We each have many stories about ourselves and the people around us. Sometimes we
include other people in our stories as part of how we identify ourselves. We
have a story about how we learned to perceive differences and how to
understand our own cultures and contacts. When we interact or engage with someone,
we are bringing our stories to the situation which can affect how we
understand one another. Cultural humility is about connecting the dots between our
experiences, listening to our own narrative and tuning into what might
have shaped our story and those around us. Cultural humility teaches us that the
story is still being written through shared knowledge and experience and none
of us will have the whole story on our own. None of these moments can really bring us to a place where we have things all
figured out and yet they serve as guides for future thought and action. This is
why personal reflection is so important when we think about cultural humility.
Does it just happen? Yes and no. There is an element of intentionally thinking of
ourselves as learners which takes away the pressure to have everything figured
out. As lifelong learners, we are saying that our story isn’t finished yet and
there are so many that we have to hear and share in along the way. When we think
about cultural humility and social work there is confluence with a human
rights-based approach. At the UB School of Social Work, we explore Social Work
practice using a framework that is based on human rights and a trauma-informed
perspective. These modes are already client focused and empowerment oriented. Cultural humility also contributes an important piece in describing the
workers role and attitude towards the client system. Cultural humility must be
integrated in frameworks for social work service delivery and interventions with
clients at all levels of practice. What does this look like? It could be through
reducing power differentials in relationship between client and provider, it emphasizes client strengths and cultural humility frames the
relationship as cooperative and co-learning between the provider and the
client. Considering a reflective narrative approach to cultural humility
impacts our knowledge, social work skills and attitude as workers. We are taking
part in a broader historical shift within the field of Social Work and
welfare policy. Our knowledge of this history and the systemic elements of our
society help us to acknowledge oppressive
realities and traumatic experiences of individuals and groups. Our skills can be
developed using methods and interventions that emphasize the
client’s power and expertise in ways that help workers frame the relationship
in a respectful and empowering way. Our attitudes can reflect where we are
located along our story line. Perhaps we are beginning the work of
acknowledging our own privilege or maybe we have lived through some experiences
that shape our approach addressing inequalities. Sometimes hearing someone
else’s story can have an impact on how we perceive their circumstances and our
own role in helping. [Slide showing title, “Conversations about Culture: The Importance of Cultural Humility”] [Slide stating, “Produced by: Sarah Richards-Desai, MSW, 2016”] [Slide stating, “Laura Lewis, PhD, Director of Field Education; Assistant Dean for Global Partnerships”] [Slide stating, “Steven Sturman, Instructional Designer”] [Slide stating, “We wish to thank all those who kindly contributed to this segment:”] [Slide stating, “Stephanie Vroman-Goodrich, LMSW, 2010; Annie Bruns, MSW, 2016; Razak Nzor, MSW, 2016”] [Slide stating, “Kathleen Kost, PhD, Associate Professor”] [Slide stating, “Produced in Association with:”] [Slide showing logo with the words, “UB School of Social Work, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York”] [Slide showing logo with the words, “Institue for Sustainable Global Engagement”] [Slide stating, “Told with Voice,”]


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