Teresa LaFromboise, a counseling psychologist concerned with stress-related problems of ethnic minority groups, came to the University last week to address bicultural issues concerning Native Americans.

During her three-day stay in Portland she met with several departments and students within the USM community to discuss any concerns the University has with bicultural issues. LaFromboise gave a lecture on Monday, in which she unveiled a recent project that attempts to combat destructive forces among Native American adolescents, including substance abuse and suicide. She shared a curriculum she designed to address the issue.

“It’s important for people to look at the positive side of living biculturally, moving toward a new culture in the making as people enter into each other’s cultures without fear,” said Lafromboise.

The Libra Professor Committee (LPC) at USM, made up of representatives from faculty and staff, brought Lafromboise here as part of USM’s diversity plan. The plan states that one use of LPC funds is to bring scholars with culturally diverse backgrounds to campus.

“Her research was one of the strongest interests to students and faculty in our counseling program and to several educators and councilors who came from the Portland schools as our guests,” said Richard Barnes, dean of the College of Education and Human Development.

Although LaFromboise’s lecture was based on her work in Native American communities, Barnes believes it has relevance for other cultural contexts as well.

“One of my responsibilities is to increase . multicultural ways of thinking,” said Barnes. “Teresa helped us do that.”

Barnes also said that schools are increasingly aware that many students face a large division between the culture of the dominant society in school, and the culture of their family and ethnic origin.

Long Hang, a 21-year-old business major who came to the United States from Southeast Asia, knows the hardships of living biculturally. While Hang feels completely biculturally competent now, there were times when he and his family experienced cultural and religious separation, and he experienced hardships both at King Middle School and Portland High School.

“I expected more from the teachers,” said Hang. “I tried very hard to make sure teachers were doing what was best for my future, unfortunately they were just teaching and not counseling.”

Although Hang said he has not had to seek help at USM to deal with bicultural issues, he admitted he still struggles to some degree with language barriers.

According to Rebecca Sockbeson, director of Multicultural Student Affairs, LaFromboise is the first Native American speaker asked to speak at USM since Sockbeson became director four years ago.

“She was selected because of her commitment to critical multiculturalism,” said Sockbeson.

Living biculturally can be like living in two separate and very different worlds, according to Sockbeson. The struggle to maintain a balance of cultures in the face of a dominant white culture can affect employment, education, and create conflicts with personal values, she said. “The struggle lies in getting acclimated to a dominant culture while maintaining your own,” said Sockbeson. “Living biculturally does have rewards, but also many hardships.” Sockbeson believes that being biculturally competent is critical for staff and faculty who work with these students every day.

“There is a whole range of students facing these issues including multiracial, monoracial, and biracial students. In order to become biculturally competent we must try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes to us seeking to educate us.”

One program the University is using to address bicultural issues is the Extended Teachers Education Program (ETEP). In partnership with Portland public schools and community leaders, ETEP provides support for refugees who wish to become teachers

There are currently six students enrolled in the program, which began in mid-August, . according to ETEP coordinator Flynn Ross. The students must complete two 15-week classroom placements. During the internships, participants in the program discuss cross-cultural issues brought up by parents of bicultural students in the Portland community and the advisory board of ETEP.

In addition to ETEP, the Honors Program, is currently designing two courses concerning bicultural issues thanks to a grant from the National Advancement for the Humanities. The courses will include topics such as exile and Diaspora, a term meaning the throwing of seeds referring to the way other cultures, in this case Yugoslavians and African-Americans, are forced to leave their homelands during wartime. Fifteen faculty members are involved in the design of the courses as well as several community members and students.

“The goal of the program is to bring the faculty together on this important issue,” said Caffentzis. “We are living in a country where many people are living double lives. We can’t think of these matters in terms of numbers.”

Caffentzis believes that bicultural issues are very real and important in Maine, even though the state lacks a lot of diversity.

Overall, USM is not biculturally competent, according to Kathleen Wininger, associate professor of philosophy.

“There are some people committed to addressing bicultural issues, but there is no general support to bring these people together,” said Wininger.

Others say the University is doing the best it can.

“Our college has had a long history of involvement in and support of these efforts at USM,” said Barnes. “Success is uneven, perhaps, because USM is a large institution with a pretty diverse population to begin with, but I am proud of our university’s commitment and accomplishments in this area.”

According to President Richard Pattenaude, the University recognizes the importance of being a place where bicultural students and staff are comfortable and can be successful.

“In many ways, we have a head start because we have been, for a long time, a powerful mixture of traditional and nontraditional students, far more so than any other campus in Maine,” said Pattenaude.

With the addition of the Multicultural Student Center, the Women’s Resource Center, the GLBTQA office, and other places around campus that deal with bicultural issues, Pattenaude believes that there is a strong and growing awareness at USM concerning the need to be a more diverse university.

“In recent years we have added staff, programs, and resources in support of bicultural students,” said Pattenaude. “It shows we are making progress.”

Staff Writer Ryan Milliken can be contacted at: [email protected]

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