EDUCATIONAL PERSPECTIVES /23
Building Respectful Connections Among Culturally-Diverse Students in Hawai'i
Abstract: Tl1is article discusses ll1e formation of a new university/
scltool-based partnersl1ip wltich was designed to promote students'
respect and awareness for cultural diversity.
Hawai'i is frequently referred to as the "land of paradise."
This image emerges from a genuine appreciation of both the
natural beauty of the Hawaiian islands and the spirit of
"aloha"that characterizes the way individuals treat one
another in this special land. Visitors often comment about
the positive impressions they have regarding the respectful
and accepting atmosphere that permeates the daily interac-
tions of people from so many different cultural, ethnic and
This myopic image does not, however, portray a com·
pletely accurate picture of the types of social conflicts and
tensions that exist among various groups of persons in
Hawai'i. In fact, much of the modem history of Hawai'i has
been scarred by numerous instances of conflict and strife
that has fueled continuing antagonisms between persons
from different cultural, e thnic and racial groups.
Over the past several years, tensions have become more
openly manifested as acts of violence have increased among
high school students from different cultural and racial
backgrounds. These alarming incidents support the notion
that the level of cultural, ethnic and racial tension is rising in
many communities in Hawai'i.
Ponterotto and Pedersen (1993) note that this sort of
intercultural tension is typically rooted in a lack of knowl-
edge and information individuals have about persons from
diverse backgrounds. This lack of awareness frequently
promotes negative prejudices and stereotypes which
perpetuate unhealthy antagonisms between persons who
differ according to their cultural, ethnic or racial heritage
(Ponterrotto & Pedersen, 1993).
The cultural diversity of the citizenry in Hawai'i is likely
to increase in the future. Demographic projections point to
the fact that many people from the U.S. mainland, China,
Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and other nations in
southeast Asia will continue to migrate to Hawai'i well into
the 21st century (Hawai'i Community Services Council,
Thus, the combination of rising incidents of inter-ethnic
tensions and violence in our public schools, students' lack of
knowledge about persons from diverse cultural/ethnic/
racial backgrounds, and the demographic trends mentioned
above constitute a realistic area of concern for. many educa-
tors, administrators and counselors. To defuse the potential
volatility of these factors, it is important that school officials
implement proactive strategies that promote greater under·
standing of cultural diversity and reduce the types of
negative prejudices and stereotypes which fuel inter-ethnic
conflicts among culturally-diverse student populations.
School administrators, counselors and teachers can play a
vital role in helping students develop the types of social
skills and knowledge that are necessary to acquire a greater
sense of tolerance and respect for cultural, ethnic and racial
diversity. As with many other types of educational interven-
tions, it is believed that the sooner students are provided
opportunities to develop social competencies which reflect
greater respect and understanding for human differences the
better. For this reason it is suggested that cultural awareness
and prejudice reduction activities should be systematically
infused into elementary school classroom settings.
This article describes how members of the Department of
Counselor Education at the University of Hawai'i joined in a
partnership with the staff and students at a local elementary
school to address issues of racial-ethnic conflict.
The primary goal of this school-based program was to
promote children's social development by incorporating a
variety of cultural awareness and prejudice reduction
activities within the classroom setting. The design of this
intervention was guided by a number of propositions and
assumptions that are associated with the work of several
social development and multicultural counseling theorists.
These theoretical principles and guidelines are briefly
discussed in the following section of this article.
Social Development Theory and Mullicultural Counseling
Issues: Important Considerations in Program Planning
Elementary school counselors and teachers are in an
excellent position to implement intervention strategies that
help children develop the types of cognitive and social skills
that are necessary for them to live productive and satisfying
Jives in a pluralistic society. With the increasing diversifica-
tion of our modem society, one of the major developmental
tasks students will have to fa ce involves learning to get along
with individuals who look, act and think very differently
14 / EDUCATIONAL PERSPECTIVES
Selman (1980) noted that youngsters normally manifest new
cognitive and social competencies which help them develop
more meaningful interpersonal connections with their peers
during middle childhood. These developmental changes
include an increased ability to accurately understand
another person's perspective (perspective-taking) and
learning about the importance of acting cooperatively with
one's friends (reciprocity) (Selman, 1980; Selman & Byrne,
Selman's (1980) research clearly demonstrated that most
children manifest a developmental readiness to interact with
their peers in more cooperative and meaningful ways during
their elementary school years. However, the perpetuation of
racism and negative cultural stereotypes that exist in society
at-large makes it difficult for many youngsters to demon-
strate a genuine sense of respect and acceptance for indi-
viduals from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The rise in the number of racial/ ethnic conflicts, which
have recently occurred among high school and university
students in Hawai'i and the U.S. mainland, represents a
serious delay in their social development (Allen & Niss,
1990; Carter & Wilson, 1989; D' Andrea & Daniels, 1994).
This sort of developmental delay frequently occurs when
individuals are not provided opportunities early in their
lives to develop the types of skills which are necessary to
interact with persons from diverse backgrounds in an
empathic and respectful manner.
It is important to note that interpersonal conflicts which
are rooted in a lack of respect and empathy for persons from
diverse cultural backgrounds are not restricted to adoles-
cents and adults in secondary schools and universities. In
fact, elementary school counselors are frequently called
upon to work with children who have interpersonal prob-
lems with students from different cultural, ethnic and racial
It is certainly important to intervene and help children
resolve conflicts when they occur. However, it is equally
important that school counselors take a proactive position by
providing services which are intentionally designed to help
youngsters develop the types of cognitive and social
competencies that are necessary to prevent interpersonal
conflicts from occurring in the first place. When utilizing
this sort of preventive approach with youngsters from
diverse backgrounds, it is vital that counselors do so in
culturally-responsive and respectful ways (Pedersen &
Numerous guidance and counseling programs have been
tested and found to be effective in promoting the social
development of elementary school students (Lane &
McWhirter, 1992; Liu & Baker, 1993; Myrick, 1987; Paisley &
Hubbard, 1994; Stickel, 1990). Unfortunately, few attempts
have been made to design and assess the effectiveness of
programs that strive to be responsive to the unique develop-
mental needs of students from various cultural, ethnic and
racial backgrounds (Vargas & Koss-Chioino, 1992).
Recognizing the importance of addressing this void,
Omizo and D'Andrea (1995) developed an educational
framework that was specifically designed to promote
youngsters' social competencies and cultural awareness.
Their framework integrates the work of several developmen-
tal and multicultural theorists. This model was subse-
quently field-tested and found to be effective for use with
elementary school-aged students (D' Andrea & Daniels, in
Based on a modified version of Omizo and D' Andrea's
(1995) framework, faculty members and graduate students
in the Department of Counselor Education at the University
of Hawai'i joined together to develop and implement a ten-
week classroom-based intervention to address teachers'
concerns about inter-ethnic conflicts among their students.
What follows is a description of this school-based project.
Formulating a New University/School-Based Poirtnership
An elementary school counselor in one of the public
schools in Hawai'i requested a consultation meeting with
faculty members in the Department of Counselor Education.
The purpose of this meeting was to discuss problems that
were occurring among numerous third grade students at her
school and to get ideas about possible intervention strategies
to address these problems.
During this meeting, the school counselor acknowledged
that it was not unusual for third graders to exhibit interper-
sonal difficulties with their peers from time to time. How-
ever, she indicated that there were several reasons why she
was particularly concerned about the types of problems thi