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Culturally Responsive Higher Education

Increased diversity on college campuses has drawn attention to the racial achievement gap at the college level. This gap is consistent with the achievement gap in the K-12 systems. U.S. Department of Education (2012) data show that college success and completion rates for African American and Latino students lag behind White students in colleges nationwide. With the increasing diversity of college students, comes the need to rethink traditional pedagogies that are ineffective for many student populations, especially those students coming from diverse backgrounds (Ginsberg & Wlodowski, 2009; Guy, 1999; Rose, 2009). Since curriculum and pedagogy are faculty-driven in higher education (Mellow & Heelan, 2008), faculty play an integral role in promoting culturally responsive theories and practices in college communities and classrooms (McPhail & Costner, 2004).

Culturally responsive teaching is commonly defined in terms of what it does rather than what it is (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2009; McPhail & Costner, 2004; Terrell & Lindsay, 2009). It is described as a way to counter ineffective and unjust pedagogical traditions (Banks, 2010; Gay, 2010; Murrell, 2007). Since the 1990s, culturally responsive teaching has been implemented and found to be effective in pre-secondary (K-12) settings (Gay, 2010; Hollins, 1996; Ladson-Billings, 2009). Culturally responsive teaching places students’ cultures at the heart of teaching and learning (Gay, 2010; Hollins, 1996), values and draws connections to students’ family and cultural knowledge (Moll, Tapia, & Whitmore, 1993), and uses reflective practice to consider students’ and teachers’ identities in classroom interactions (Brookfield, 2002; Tatum, 1997). More recently, scholars have studied culturally responsive teaching in college settings. These few studies have noted the importance of considering culture in motivating diverse college students (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2009).

Guy (1999) calls for new approaches to teaching and learning for adult learners of diverse social, cultural, and linguistic minority groups. He explains that traditionally, Western European culture has been the defining influence of American culture and has conflicted with other cultural influences. Thus, when the dominant culture prevails, less powerful groups are marginalized and less likely to be successful. In educational settings, combating marginalization of minority adult learners involves a “reconstruction of learners’ group-based identity from one that is negative to one that is positive” (p. 13). Similarly, Ginsberg & Wlodkowski (2009) propose that college educators must give more considerable attention to their own attitudes and methods when preparing to teach diverse learners: “Culturally responsive teaching occurs when there is respect for the backgrounds and circumstances of students regardless of individual status and power, and when there is a design for learning that embraces the range of needs, interests, and orientations in the classroom” (p. 24).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help college professors gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally responsive practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic learning environment that honors your student community, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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