Sample Education Paper on Bridging the Cultural Divide in Higher Education

Introduction

Cultural diversity has been cultural of the advanced education system for ages, with differences in the cultural stereotypes held by university systems in general and by people in the universities. With changing gender and other cultural beliefs across the world, universities have been characterized by conversations on internationalization and diversity, yet students sometimes tend to self-segregate while on campus because of the traditional conceptions of genders and diverse cultural beliefs. Most institutions attempt to find ways of encouraging focus on resilience and openness to change. However, the raw material required for the building of resilience is constituted in intellect, emotional stability and physical robustness, all of which are qualities developed more effectively through the external support systems that students have including their families, friends and sometimes teachers; and internal supports such as the willingness to learn and their personal abilities (Caruana, 2012). Existential support such as faith, personal values and meanings in life also constitute part of the ingredients from which resilience is built. Each of these supports are culturally bound, hence the link between personal educational experiences and cultural beliefs and values.

These differences have existed from time immemorial as evidenced by historical narratives on the gender differences in access to education, wages, and generally on the availability of choices in education. Hence posing a problem that can be defined as the existence of cultural gaps in higher education, where greater diversity is experienced. To better understand the impacts of these differences in the education setting and the nature of the cultural gaps that currently exist in advanced education, interviews were conducted with two participants. The purpose of the research was to examine the experiences of the participants in terms of cultural diversity and inclusion with a focus on various attributes including sexuality, gender, nationality and race, and to determine the existence of common patterns of cultural considerations among the two.

Contextual Description

To achieve the objective of this paper, two interviews were conducted with two women namely, Brittany Parish and Cheryl Payne. The first participant is an African American, born in America. She is a post graduate student at Baylor, where she also went for her undergraduate program. Throughout her life, she has had significant support from her mother. She has been surrounded by educationally strong women since her grandmother had graduated college at a time when even most of the white males did not attend college, hence broke a stereotype at the time. The parents had been married for 20 years but are now presumably divorced and the father remarried a white woman. The mother, who had been a strong support to Brittany and whom she considers a role model, passed on four years back, an event she describes as the most painful moment in her life, surpassing even the death of her own child later on. She previously had strong financial support from the family, but that support declined following the 2008 financial crisis, and she has had significant financial struggles after that. She currently supports herself and her boyfriend through her work as an adjunct professor in two universities, with her dad helping her to pay for her car, although that just started recently. She thus mentions financial challenges as the biggest problem to her. She confirms that she has not faced any exclusion on account of her culture, race, ethnicity or gender at Baylor, although she sometimes felt left out at chiropractic school because of the school politics that she does not participate in.

The second participant, Cheryl Payne, gives little information about her life. She was born and educated in Barbados, where she continues to live. She defines herself as a spiritual person and a child of God, whom she attributes her well-being to. Her parents had been married for 50 years until the father passed on four years ago. She has had strong emotional and spiritual support from her mother and continues to consider her mother as a source of strength.

Procedures or Methods

The study was conducted through a qualitative research process using an interview technique. The qualitative research process has been described as the most effective process when conducting research that requires first-hand information on the attitudes, beliefs, and experiences of participants, such as in this study (Sutton & Austin, 2015). The study was initially designed as a semi-structured interview, whereby the participants were to be asked questions about their experiences both culturally and in education.

Participant Recruitment

Participation in the process was voluntary, and the participants had to confirm their agreement to participate and were not coerced in any way.

Sampling Method

Potential participants were selected by convenience sampling from among the researcher’s friends. Because of the scope of the study and the limitations of resources, the sample size was limited to 2 participants, which is less than what would be recommended for similar research with a large population size.

Data Collection Methods

The participants were informed of the intention to conduct the interviews one week before the actual interview and were allowed to recommend the time and process of convenience for their participation. For Brittany, the interview was conducted over a phone call lasting for 2.5 hours, and the phone call was recorded during the interview. She was however informed that the phone call would be recorded and she gave her consent.

Cheryl on the other hand, opted to complete the interview in the form of a survey questionnaire. The questionnaire was sent to her via e-mail, and she filled and mailed it back for analysis. The interview and survey techniques used are both considered effective methods of qualitative data collection techniques because they can be used to collect information from large numbers of participants without effects on their validity and reliability (Kabir, 2016). The interview/survey questions were designed following the principles of research question design including avoiding negative language, being consistent on the topic, avoiding leading questions and other practices. To address ethical concerns around confidentiality of participant information as is required when working with human participants, the participants were duly informed that their names and other details about their lives including their schools and jobs would be presented as part of the research write-up. The reason was given to them accurately and they were allowed to make a choice on whether they had issues with the sharing of their names or not. Both of them approved to have their names and other details shared.

Data Analysis

The information collected from the participants was analysed through an abstractive procedure, whereby the data was categorized into different themes depending on the objective of the research. According to Atmowardoyo (2018), abstractive analysis is an effective strategy for analysing descriptive research findings as it helps to maintain objective reasoning in research.

Results

The findings were divided into three thematic areas tied to the objective of this study, namely: perceived stereotypes, identity influences, and use of language. From the findings, the two women showed commonalities in family value, personal influences (both were influenced strongly by their mothers), religious beliefs, struggles (both of them mentioned financial challenges as the most impactful struggle), emphasis on education (both mentioned the strong desire to earn a doctorate), hobbies (both enjoy baking), and the fact that they both worked while at school to support themselves. Areas in which the two showed different results included in their perceived stereotypes (Brittany reported that blacks were perceived to be lazy, while Cheryl reported that students from other countries segregated themselves from the Barbados natives), language use (Brittany changes language contextually while Cheryl generally does not feel comfortable sharing her deeper feelings and thoughts in school, particularly on controversial and political topics), and in the identity, whereby Brittany defines herself as an African American while Cheryl defines herself as a child of God, above the cultural and race definitions.

Discussion

The education system has changed significantly over the years in terms of cultural diversity and inclusivity. The shift particularly from gendered access to education to a time where there is equitable access to education has resulted in changing perspectives both among students and among parents (Kiss & Tojo, 2017). Accordingly, the experiences of students in higher education learning institutions are no longer characterized by the traditional disparities in gender. For instance Banks and Banks (2016) report that traditionally, there were courses reserved for women, some jobs paid women nearly half of what was paid to men for equal work, and even parents would discourage their female children from taking up some of the courses as they were ‘reserved for men’. However, the findings from this study purpose to dispel any such notions of gender disparity in education. Both participants recognize the influence of their mothers not only towards accessing education, but also in building resilience, which is a core factor in determining a culturally inclusive access to education. The similarities in their experiences reflect convergence with the discussion by Tkachenko, Bratland and Johansen (2016), who claim that in the contemporary inclusive society, student experiences in multicultural higher education settings are more unifying than discriminative. The two participants therefore confirm the shift of cultural and institutional stereotypes on higher education from the gendered perspective, to a more gender inclusive perspective.

The similarities among the two participants indicate changes in stereotypes not only within the advanced education context, but also within families. The two share that their biggest challenge is financial. Brittany even confirms that she supports both herself and her boyfriend, dispelling the traditional stereotype of men as the bread winners in the family. This particular experience provides sufficient evidence of the growing gender equity. Similarly, similarities in their focus on attaining a doctorate indicate the conventional shift from value for home caring as a role of the female gender, to the full participation in building the society through equitable access to education. The shared experiences of non-discrimination on grounds of gender across the two participant groups are an indication of the convergence of feminism, which implores equity not only for specific groups of females but for all females in general (Hooks, 2013). Banks and Banks (2016) report that individual experiences are shaped by diverse intersecting statuses and that these statuses affect the interrelationship between people, perceived values and cultures. However, in the contemporary times, shifts in beliefs over time has resulted the cumulative effects of diverse statuses, where the experiences of each individual are characterized by the interaction of all statuses pertaining to that individual.

Bridging the cultural divide in higher education implies eliminating all forms of exclusion. Students in higher education settings should not feel excluded because of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion or any other factors. In recent times, the increasing inclusion in higher education institutions has been characterized by the avoidance of discriminatory approaches to allocation of resources. Nieto (1998) particularly posits that in mainstream higher education, students who have been marginalized on account of their cultural or other minority statuses are often perceived by the general society as deficient. In this study therefore, it is deductible that these kinds of experiences have been somewhat eliminated. Both Brittany and Cheryl report that they have not felt any kind of discrimination targeting them personally because of their gender cultures or ethnicity. The only form of negative stereotype reported by Cheryl includes all students from Barbados, in that students from other Caribbean countries do not want to study with them. This may be considered as a stereotype unique to those Caribbean countries and not a general one associated with the higher education system. Moreover, Caruana (2012) emphasizes the influences of external supports such as families and friends; internal supports such as personal abilities; and existential supports such as spirituality on the development of resilience, which is a core requirement for effective sustenance of cultural inclusivity. Both participants in this study exhibit the influences of parental guidance and spirituality, in addition to personal abilities in their choices and progress.

From these findings therefore, it is arguable that the cultural divides that previously existed in higher education have been significantly eliminated. The experiences of students are no longer defined by their cultural or other identities. This indicates growing equitability, cultural acceptance, and general closure of the cultural divide among students in higher education.

Implications

This study confirms the shift from the traditional perspectives on gender, cultures and their impacts on the higher education system and the choices made by students. Particularly, it increases focus on the need to develop strategies for helping students overcome personal biases and self-defeatism. With the shift from institutionalized stereotypes, there is increasing need to push for a shift from personal attributes that hinder progress, whether facilitated by external experiences or not. The limitation of this study is its limited sample size for the interviews, which may hinder generalizability.

Personal Reflection

One of the greatest impacts that this study has had on my own perspectives about self and my plans towards professional growth is that it has opened my perspective about individual strengths and possibilities. By understanding the changed institutional processes and perspectives on cultural diversity, I have come to realize that the only possible hindrances to professional and personal growth would be personal insecurities. Because of this, I am more determined to pursue my goals to a logical end. In this, I am motivated by the work of Anna Filosofava. In 1860, Anna, together with her friends Maria and Nadezhda Stasova founded the “Society for Cheap Lodging and Other Aid to the Residents of Saint Petersburg” based on a new philanthropic method. Filosofova believed that instead of giving cash benefits to the poor, it was better to train and educate them so that they could earn a living on their own. They provided low cost housing for poor women and sewing work from local businesses. This belief diverged from the conventional discriminatory approach, and set the women on a path to self-sustainability rather than dependence, which eventually resulted in further progress towards success through various investments including ownership of buildings, contracts for sewing for the military and others. Anna’s experiences prove that it is even more possible to attain one’s goals at this time when there are many supportive systems.

My own passion is in building up the Shirley Chisholm Education Foundation [SCEF], named after my great-aunt, Shirley Chisholm.  Shirley was born in New York, raised in Barbados, and was the first African American Woman to serve in Congress and, in 1972, run for President in the primaries of a major party.  She was instrumental in developing the Food Stamp program and in fighting for justice and equality for women and minorities in America. SCEF was initially focused on addressing issues of hunger on college campuses in the US. However, while implementing my outreach work, I found that disadvantaged female college students, though particularly at risk of hunger, needed additional socio-emotional support to live independently. We are currently focused on identifying from among many approaches, the most effective techniques to propel these first-generation female college students into fulfilling, independent lives.

In my interviews with Brittany and Cheryl, I see opportunities for SCEF to help future generations of women address the issues they brought up.  Particularly the financial barriers to achieve higher education while taking care of the basic living requirements.  And the difficulties in finding suitable mentors to help guide them in their career pursuits and decisions they make in life.

 

References

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Banks, J. A., & Banks, C. A. M. (Eds.). (2016). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives (9th Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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