SALT LAKE CITY — Following up on training for principals at the end of last school year, Utah Catholic Schools brought together teachers and counselors for a multicultural workshop led by Dr. Arturo Chávez, president and chief executive officer of MACC, the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas.
The purpose of the workshop, which was Jan. 13 at Saint Vincent de Paul School, was "for our teachers to understand what culture means and how to be more welcoming, so we can welcome more students into our schools from different cultures," said Holy Cross Sister Catherine Kamphaus, superintendent of Utah Catholic Schools.
In his presentation, Chávez not only gave examples of different cultures, he also outlined different communication styles and how those ways of communicating can lead to conflict. For example, someone who is a high-context communicator relies on a shared understanding with the audience about what certain things mean. By contrast, a low-context communicator speaks with precise words that are meant to be taken literally. A person’s way of communicating often is dictated by their culture; many South American cultures are high context while North Americans tend to be low context.
"Our culture is hidden from us; we’re doing things we’re not even aware that we’re doing," Chávez said, "but we can learn new skills and when we learn new skills we become more effective."
When people from different cultures come together, they can clash without knowing the precise reason for the conflict, which could be their communication style, he pointed out. Even when people are willing to grow in their relationships, it’s not easy to respect other cultures.
Humans naturally fear strangers, Chávez said, using the example of babies who automatically cry when they are picked up by someone they don’t know. "Stranger danger is a natural response, but it’s infantile," and leads to stereotyping and prejudice, he said.
Racism is the use of power to validate and reinforce prejudices, he said, which is contrary to the Catholic teaching that every human being has dignity.
Art Holder, who teaches German and human geography at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, said he learned much at the workshop that he can use in his lesson plans to explain cultural diversity to students.
Chávez’s presentation applied not only to different ethnic groups but also to different American cultures, said Patrick Reeder, principal of Saint Francis Xavier Regional School in Kearns. "We have so many different communication styles, and what he talked about today can help us act more as a team and understand more where the other team members are coming from," Reeder said, adding that he also hopes that, after attending the workshop, teachers will be better able to understand students and parents from different ethnic backgrounds.