Indian women with a girl making a rug
Credit: Lutheran Women Today, June 2002


During the final decades of the Twentieth Century, the world's boundaries were re-mapped and massive migrations of people occurred. Global citizenship came into question as one conflict followed another: the Gulf War, Afghanistan, 9-11, and Iraq. The U. S. is the most diverse nation in the world, both in terms of cultural identities and religions. Amid increasing domestic AND global diversity, educating young Americans for a world "lived in common" has moved from a general goal to a specific requirement in schools across the nation.

In the new Millennium, most U. S. schools and youth groups are experiencing more diversity as the numbers and proportions of Hispanic, Asian, and other New Americans rapidly increase. Thus, many school boards are implementing comprehensive cross-cultural programs designed to develop informed, reasoning, and culturally-sensitive persons to live, work, and lead in diverse global societies.

As noted earlier, adolescence is a crucial time of working to know themselves and their world AND wanting to belong. Guides should seize every opportunity to prepare teens for the global world they now live in. The UD Learnsite allows relatively neutral comparisons of multi-cultural differences in lifestyles and product use, plus ways of approaching personal interactions.


Culture is made up of the values, language, and symbols people use to define and understand life's experiences. Culture gives us standards for how we relate to people and the world around us. In turn, cultural standards often create cultural identities among those who share the same or similar values. Differences, divisions, and inequities between cultures can, however, dominate people's attention rather than drawing them together.

Multi- or inter-cultural skills can weave new and different cultural threads based on diverse attributes that make an individual unique (and in the case of employment, do not interfere with effective job performance). That individuality may include a wide spectrum of attributes such as age, race, ethnicity, language, gender, marital or familial status, disability, sexual orientation, citizenship status, national or regional origin, religion, political affiliation, personal style, socioeconomic circumstances, education, and life experiences. (Some items in this composite list have been incorporated into state and/or federal anti-discrimination laws.)

For many adolescents, the first step may be to focus on the similarities and differences of their schools' "new" cultures. The largest U. S. minority group, Hispanics, is not racially-based, but reflects the countries of origin: Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Central and South America, and Spain. Other U. S. communities whose cultures differ from the majority population include Native Americans, Alaska Natives, blacks or African-Americans, and Asians.
Each community above also has subgroups: Native Americans include members of many sovereign Indian nations and tribes. Black Americans may have descended from slaves, or may be immigrants or refugees from Haiti, Jamaica, or Africa. Asian-Americans include people from Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Laos, to name just a few Asian countries. ALL Americans have cultural similarities and differences as results of our "melting pot" society.

A key question in diversity and multi-cultural education is, "How can we create social consciousness and responsibility through inclusive, sustained, and structured interaction in a safe environment?" Universal Design is an excellent and safe vehicle for infusing multi-cultural competencies into an educational curriculum or after-school program.

Because they all relate to daily life, any UD Learnsite lesson can emphasize one or more multi-cultural competencies. Before we get into specific details, we need to outline a sample set of multi-cultural competencies that Guides may use in beginning to develop cross-cultural programming.


A multi-cultural competency is the knowledge, skills, and personal attributes that people need to live and work in a diverse world. As the Millennium began, focus groups conducted at Kansas State University produced the following synthesis of multi-cultural competencies that K-State students are expected to acquire before graduation (Tilford Group, 2002).

The multi-cultural competencies fall into three groups: Knowledge, personal attributes (traits), and skills (behavior and performance) described below:

1. Knowledge (needed to live and work in a diverse world)

*Cultural Self-The ability to understand one's ethnic identity and how it influences their identity development.

*Diverse Ethnic Groups-Knowledge of various ethnic groups and their cultures.

*Social/Political Frameworks-Awareness of how economic, social, and political issues affect race and ethnic relations.

*Changing Demographics-Understanding population dynamics related to ethnic minority and majority citizens.

2. Personal Attributes (Traits)

*Flexibility-The ability to respond and adapt to new and changing situations.

*Respect-An appreciation for those who are different from one's self (and NO dissin' them either!)

*Empathy-The ability to understand another person's culture by listening to and understanding their perspective.

3. Skills (Behaviors and performance)

*Cross Cultural Communication-Verbal and nonverbal communication skills (e.g., "body language") in interaction with those who are culturally different from one's self.

*Teamwork-The ability to work in culturally diverse groups toward a common goal.

*Listening-The ability to attend to what others are saying without "interference" from one's own cultural values.

*Conflict Resolution-The ability to resolve cultural conflicts that occur between individuals and groups.

*Critical Thinking-The ability to use inductive and deductive reasoning.

*Language Development-The ability to speak and write more than one language.

*Leadership Development-The ability to provide multi-cultural leadership.

We dare not suggest that the above list is the ONLY model, but rather a place to start. If needed, we also recommend that you study some of the teen-oriented textbooks designed to deal with diversity and cultivate inter-group awareness and appreciation.


Specifically, UDLS Lesson 6 compares and contrasts UD applications around the world-an obvious time to invite international guests to share their cultures and comment on the UD concept (perhaps demonstrating UD items "from home."). But multi-cultural exposure need not be limited to one lesson.

In a full ten-lesson UD Unit, Guides may emphasize one or two multi-cultural competencies in the first lesson, and expand the number with each new lesson. By the tenth lesson, the UD Unit will have expanded to a "model of inclusion." "Lite UD" participants can receive a similar experience, but spread over six lessons. THEIR Guides may emphasize 2-3 competencies per lesson (reducing depth of coverage of all 14) OR choose to cover only eight or nine competencies.

Regardless of the number of lessons, the following suggestions may "fit." In advance, Guides may select and assign one or two competencies from each group that apply to specific lessons. Also, ask the youth to discuss (or demonstrate by role-playing) other competencies that seem appropriate to a particular lesson or to situations in their home community.

Guides may take advantage of opportunities to insert 3-minute mini-multi-cultural lessons that fit comments made during lesson discussions. Or you may find that one or two particular competencies are better approached by a third party (an international guest speaker, panel discussion, or even the Internet).

Guides may adapt the competencies for use in small group discussions about diversity and multi-culturalism after the youth have time to reflect on that content relative to their own cultural roots, values, and beliefs. When the climate seems right, have them discuss differences and similarities that are appearing as their communities become more diverse. As they learn about each other and explore INTERgroup concepts and issues, teens' tolerance levels may grow so that additional cross-cultural programming may succeed.


The goal of cross-cultural programming is the intentional development of an inclusive identity. Such programs use tools for relating across barriers that both define AND separate us into racial and cultural groups. They energize and expand our community and world views-providing opportunity for both action and growth.

Cross-cultural relationships are mutually strengthening; they also help youth discover creative and cooperative responses within disparate groups. These relationships can be nurtured in various ways, including community-based service learning that actively constructs knowledge, allows learning to occur outside the classroom, and helps develop civic action and social responsibility (Rauner, 2002).

Although we hadn't read the above statement at the time, we designed the UDLS' Community-wide UD Awareness Campaign assignment to do just that! We now leave you to do great things in Universal Design Education and preparing our youth for that world "lived in common."

Multicultural group of people
Credit: The Learning Seed