The Importance of College Students Learning Cultural Awareness

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The last 20 years of the 20th century pushed rapid political and cultural changes to the forefront of the world's consciousness. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, diverse economies, cultures and ideologies began to influence the landscape of not only Europe, but eventually the world. Events such as these gave rise to the global economy, and it's a world that 21st century college students will move into after graduation. In light of this, educating these students about cultural awareness becomes imperative.

1 Demographic Facts

According to an article on the Great Schools website, the demographics of the U.S. will shift dramatically by 2100. Today's minorities will emerge as tomorrow's majorities. The 2010 census showed that the ethnic breakdown of the United States was almost 75 percent white, but whites will only be 40 percent of the population by the next century.

While the effects of this demographical change won't be completely felt for several decades, students graduating into the job market now already feel the shift. The effects of globalization have already affected the workplace. More and more companies have a diversity of cultures within the workplace, and the students vying for these jobs will stand a better chance of integrating into the workplace if they already have practiced skills in cultural diversity and awareness.

2 Outcomes of a Diverse Campus

A student's background affects how she responds to her academic environment, classmates and school obligations. Campus diversity programs can positively affect the whole population of a campus, not just those who fall into underrepresented groups. According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, students showed higher aptitudes for analysis if their educations had exposed them to multiple cultural perspective.

Further, information on Diversity Web indicates that a racially diverse campus population improved a school's retention rates. Students on those campuses also reported that they felt more satisfaction and social self-confidence at the university.

3 Considerations

Instructors can play a big factor in promoting cultural awareness on campus, although many teachers report feeling challenged when it comes to creating culturally responsive curricula for their students. This includes instructors who have received training in this area. But their involvement is critical to the success of cultural diversity on campus. Adequate help for these educators may have long-reaching benefits for minority students on campus -- especially at predominantly white schools, where minorities often report feeling isolated, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

4 Implementing Cultural Diversity Programs

Fortunately, many schools already have some resources that help to bolster cultural awareness on campus. For example, most universities offer foreign languages. These classes not only provide students with the necessary linguistic skills for the 21st century, but also give them direct access to a culture. A person's language represents such a strong foundation to a person's identity that the Vermont Agency of Education calls language the "most overt expression of culture." By its very nature, the study of a foreign language teaches cultural awareness.

Other methods for training students in cultural awareness include dialogues among diverse populations on campus and in-class group activities based on cooperative learning principles.

Buffy Naillon has worked in the media industry since 1999, contributing to Germany's "Der Spiegel" magazine and various websites. She received a bachelor's degree in German from Boise State University. Naillon also attended New York University and participated in the foreign exchange program at Germany's Saarland University. She is completing her master's degree in educational technology at Boise State.