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  • EDUCATIONAL PERSPECTIVES /23

    Building Respectful Connections Among Culturally-Diverse Students in Hawai'i

    Judy Daniels

    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 racial backgrounds.

    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, 1995).

    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 from themselves.

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    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, 1974).

    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 backgrounds.

    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 & Carey, 1994).

    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 press).

    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