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Tilford Group seeks to infuse curriculum, develop set of multicultural competencies

By Keener A. Tippin II


You come to college. Eventually you graduate and find a job.

But are you prepared to work in a global workplace. Are you multiculturally competent?

In today's global economy, diversity is of paramount importance -- particularly in light of rapidly changing demographics across the United States and around the world.

The reality of the situation is that the United States is headed into an era where the future direction and management of the country will be divided more and more amongst racial and ethnic groups.

For example:

* By 2010 the percentage of minority students will be virtually 50 percent of all students in America's schools and nearly 22 percent of all students in Kansas.

* Currently in Kansas, 18 percent of all students are minority students. In the state's 50 largest communities the proportion is nearly 25 percent.

* Between 2055 and 2060, the nation's minority population is projected to surpass the non-minority or non-Hispanic white population.

James CoffmanAfter struggling for years to get past the rhetorical phase of thinking about and acting on issues related to diversity, K-State is at the threshold of evolving into a more real world implementation phase.

"We have to understand that how we can best position ourselves as a university in that kind of environment is to incorporate the world view of minority and ethnic groups in the work we do today and the planning we do for tomorrow," said K-State provost James Coffman, pictured at left. "We can't do that unless we have greater participation rates and success rates in faculty, staff and students. That's the great value of furthering diversity."

One way K-State found was not the way to go to further diversity was a 1993 proposal which would have mandated students take at least three credits from a list of approximately 50 courses approved by a designated committee as a requirement for graduation. This "diversity overlay" was designed to enhance students' understanding of diversity and prepare them to be successful in a world where people from different backgrounds must interact effectively with each other.

While the intent may have been good, according to Juanita McGowan, associate professor and director of the American ethnic studies program, taking a one or two course diversity overlay requirement does not insure that students are multiculturally competent.

"It is imperative that diversity be infused throughout the curriculum," said McGowan, pictured at right.

McGowan, who has been promoting diversity at K-State for more than 20 years, is seeing a greater emphasis on looking comprehensively at diversity.

"When I say comprehensively I'm talking about looking at our programs, our policies and our practices," McGowan said. "I think we've come to a recognition that diversity is important; and that it is an integral part of the university growth."

Despite the misstep with the overlay, McGowan and Coffman are much more in favor of the "curriculum infusion" approach of identifying multicultural competency desired of students to learn and infusing those goals through all courses as proposed by the Tilford Group.

"I don't think we'll see another effort toward a diversity overlay, but we are seeing a major effort to develop a set of multicultural competencies that we want all the students in the university to include in their educational goals," Coffman said. "Those goals involve knowledge, personal attributes and skills having to do with the whole array of multicultural issues and opportunities in their future," Coffman said.

K-State's Tilford Group is an outgrowth of the Kansas Regents Conference on Diversity and Multiculturalism that began in 1994. It was renamed to honor the former dean of the graduate school at Wichita State University instrumental in its founding at the Regents level. It is an interdisciplinary research and development group which consists of K-State faculty, administrators and students charged to develop multicultural learning objectives that draw on the "total student experience" at K-State.

According to McGowan, the group also has formed partnerships with business and industry to identify multicultural competencies and learning objectives needed by students to live and work in a diverse world.

McGowan said the group has identified the competencies. The goal now is to translate them into curriculum objectives and then establish an approach to assessment and evaluation to gauge students' multicultural growth.

"I think it would be remarkable to be able to have first year students coming into the university and assess their level of multicultural competence as they progress through their experience here," McGowan said. "That we could set up a process where we can demonstrate the growth that they are making and where we want them to be when they leave this institution."

According to McGowan, faculty say they want their students to be multiculturally competent but they aren't sure how to infuse these competencies into the curriculum. The Tilford Group represents a systematic effort to assist departments and faculty to infuse multiculturalism in the curriculum.

"When we looked at all the national literature on multicultural curriculum development, the Tilford Group found that maybe an institution could identify two or three competencies, but nobody can identify a comprehensive list," McGowan said. "We've identified the knowledge, skills and personal attributes that students need in order to be multiculturally competent, based on what we think and what some of the literature out there is saying. We look at the achievement of multicultural competence as a comprehensive process. It comes through your advising process, it comes through curriculum process, it comes from the teaching and learning process and it come through the student life process.

"We have some foundational things in place as far as programs, committees and organizations that focus their energies on diversity, but we've got to put that stuff in place," she said. "We've got to begin to operationalize it and then be able to access its effectiveness. Until we reach the point where there are equal outcomes for everyone, we're a long way from achieving our goals."

The cutting-edge objective of the Tilford Group appears to be right on track. As society becomes more culturally diverse, it is imperative that K-State graduates students who are culturally competent and possess the knowledge, skills and attitudes to work and live in our global society.

In a Provost Lecture Series speech in 2001 William Stravropoulos, chairman of the board of Dow Chemical Company, praised K-State's recognition of the importance of diversity and for keeping its finger on the pulse of corporate of America, which he said has arguably "evolved into the dominant institutions and are now the major force in political, social, cultural and economic change around the world." According to Stravropoulos, universities such as K-State exist to provide the next generations of employees and leaders with the education, skills and experiences needed to lead a successful life.

While it is essential that students be provided with the curriculum needed to obtain their degrees, Stravropoulos said it is also important to understand that corporations are looking for future employees with diverse skills and multicultural experiences. In order for students to develop the understanding and skills necessary to help them work effectively with people from diverse backgrounds, they must be exposed to diverse populations and multicultural experiences, people of different races, genders, cultures and backgrounds.

"As I look upon it, it's a win-win situation," Stravropoulos said. "K-State wins by educating students on multiple fronts and producing well-rounded students. Students win because they gain skills and experiences that will make them better equipped to contribute. Corporate America wins because future employees have the diversity of skills and competencies that we require in new employees."

McGowan said that the work that the group has done thus far has laid a tremendous foundation from which to work. She describes K-State's on-going efforts as a work in progress.

"I think with our Tilford effort we've conducted research in all our academic colleges; we've conducted 22 focus groups and it's very clear that all of our colleges recognize the importance of diversity and the importance of multiculturalism within the curriculum," McGowan said "I think that's progress. I think if you had asked all of colleges that years ago, we wouldn't be there. So everybody is in agreement that we are in need for that but I don't think there is a consensus on how you go about doing it.

"We're now in the process of getting this information out to our campus community and then we will begin to see how they can transmit this knowledge to their particular departments, their particular courses and all that," McGowan continued. "I think we've got something to work with but we have to be committed to it. We can't politicize it."

Fall 2003