As a white person, I haven’t spent much time thinking about my own race, but rather my lack of a race as defined by American society. In other words, my multicultural education has consisted of recognizing that my White race gives me certain advantages in national and international settings, advantages that most other races do not have anywhere in the world.
Still, while my backpack of White privilege will follow me wherever I travel, I am currently teaching abroad at a Chinese university and have learned what it feels like to be a minority, although a well-liked one. As one of the only White people in this part of China, I am constantly stared at on the streets and in grocery stores, and while the faces are friendly, it’s certainly jolting to be a racial minority for the first time in my life. I studied abroad in Austria as an undergraduate for four months, as well, but I was only a linguistic minority there, but still fit in physically. It’s unusual to be different, particularly in a country as racially homogenous as China.
A good multicultural education should allow minority students educators with some sort of experience with that student’s minority group(s) who will not make that student feel like the poster child for her group (s). In other words, students have multicultural backgrounds that help shape their identities, but they are individuals first.
Certainly, I feel very lucky to have attended an undergraduate institution where many different types of students could succeed. There, for example, I roomed with a Bangladeshi international student in my freshman year, and became good friends with a black gay man.
While my university experience spoiled me in terms of what acceptance should look like, I know that many universities are not quite as accepting of diversity as my school was. Additionally, as I look back on it now with rose-colored glasses, I don’t know how ethnically-diverse and international students were acclimated into a rigid campus climate.
Still, I know that these resources do exist in most campus communities or cities. Rather than assuming that we will be the best resources, teachers should also be comfortable with referring students to other places or people that could better serve each group. This might be particularly appropriate for multicultural students who don’t take classes that include material created from diverse perspectives and by diverse individuals—it’s understandable that isolated minority students may want role models with whom they can relate in terms of diversity.