Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Students gather to discuss culture’s role in advising

Raquel Miller

Posted on February 08, 2016 in Sports
By USM Free Press

By Raquel Miller

On Feb. 2, USM’s professional academic advisors gathered on the 7th floor of Glickman Library for an all day workshop in multicultural training and advising.  The advising office frequently participates in workshops that help people become more aware of student needs not only academically, but personally.

Last week, for instance, staff participated in an interactive workshop led by Eli Clare, who identifies as  “white, disabled, genderqueer,” teaching and facilitating workshops all over the country to raise awareness and educate departments or classrooms on how to “create more disability access in their work places and communities.”

The “Considering Culture in Advising” workshop was led by academic advisor, Blaise Maccarrone, an intercultural trainer.  Running from early morning into the afternoon, Maccarrone ran the workshop interactively by using activities, discussion, small groups and reflection to encourage a place of dialogue and education on how to handle more complex issues and barriers in advising.  

Members of the workshop spent a large portion of the day participating in role-playing activities that applied to what they had learned throughout the day into real-life situations. Maccarrone explained that she, and many professors, share a belief in the power of reflection when it comes to learning.  Participating in the activities and experiences are important, but following those activities with reflection on the content is crucial for a better understanding.  Students, and in this case, the advising team, had the ability to reflect on the new concepts they had learned throughout the day, allowing them time to be worked through and understood.

While all USM students benefit in workshops such as these, this one in particular, aimed to provide clarity and assistance in dealing with cultural barriers that advisors face when meeting with students whose culture and background different than their own.  Some students might want to share that aspect of themselves with their advisor, while another might not–and that is okay–USM’s advisors strive to be aware of those differences.  

Collaborating with the coordinator of Multicultural Student Affairs, Reza Jalali, during the workshop provided advisors with a valuable resource where they could ask questions about how to address students of varying cultural backgrounds.  

As described on their USM webpage, Multicultural Student Affairs is “dedicated to increasing the awareness and appreciation of the many diverse cultures and ethnicities at USM through programming, dialogue, and cultural events.”

Members of the workshop participated in activities that dealt with varying “cultural dimensions,” which is the way we talk about culture.  Maccarrone is trained to teach others how to look at and recognize aspects of culture, that not only hover above the surface, but that go deeper.

Using the analogy of “The Cultural Iceberg,” one might be aware of some pieces of “surface culture” such as food, literature, language, music, or dress.  But, they might not be aware of the intricacies that lie beneath the surface like a particular culture’s conception of roles relating to age, gender, class; or their attitudes towards work, elders, or death; and even their mannerisms and communication styles such as displaying emotion or conversational patterns.  

There are several intricate aspects of culture to be acknowledged and respected when it comes to advising students who could be a first generation college student or a student whose first language is not English. Cultural training workshops provide advisors with the appropriate language to identify and name these things.  

Maccarrone realizes the language and cultural barriers that present themselves in the advising office and hopes that the workshop provides a source of insight for advisors when meeting with and understanding the needs of their students.  

Often, advisors meet with students who carry different expectations with them academically, based on the intricacies of their own culture.  These are expectations that can be recognized through an understanding of cultural dimensions and intercultural training such as Macarrone’s.  Advisors can use these tools to integrate an understanding of a student’s experience into their advising, supporting them while also making them aware of USM’s expectations as students.

The Academic Advising Office has been presented with an opportunity: a number of advisors on the Portland Campus began in April of 2015.  Adding fresh faces to the mixture of experienced colleagues creates an ideal environment that brings staff together and gives them the ability to exchange fresh ideas and learn from varying experiences.  They have the opportunity to establish new relationships, expand their connections with departments such as Jalali’s, and continue educating one another in order to support the needs of USM’s students.