America was once referred to as “the Great Melting Pot.” For many, this diversity-related nickname has been retired and replaced by “the Great Salad Bowl.” This new moniker reflects an understanding that, while inter-mixing, the cultures that fill the American population still retain some of their own distinctive identities, making them more like the strikingly red tomatoes and bright green strips of crispy bell pepper than the hardly recognizable and mixed-together components of a stew. Regardless of the homogeneous nature of the setting to which they are accustomed, your students will have to acclimate themselves into a culturally diverse workforce. Prepare them to do so by teaching them about diversity and acceptance and providing them practice in applying these vital life skills.
Discuss bias. To understand discrimination and failure to accommodate the differences of others, students must understand what bias means. Frame your discussion as a non-confrontational talk about the topic to ensure that students who may already exhibit bias don’t feel as if they are being called out or criticized. Explain to students that it is natural to fear the different, helping them see that the feelings they may harbor toward people from cultures that differ from their own don’t make them bad people. By acquainting your students with the topic of bias, you can reduce the likelihood that they exhibit bias once they step into the workplace.
Teach behavioral adaptation. The way in which you behave in a music-thumping night club differs greatly from the way one would behave in a ceremony or of cultural significance. For example, the clothing a student might wear in her day-to-day life will likely offend should she try to walk into a mosque, as in these Muslim houses of worship, women are commonly required to dress modestly and wear a headscarf. To prepare students to effectively interact with those from other cultures with minimum risk of offense, teach your students this, explaining to them that failure to behave properly in certain settings could leave them unintentionally offending those who hold the cultural customs dear.
Dispel stereotypes. Your students likely allow some stereotypes to influence their opinions of others. Work to break these as they can be detrimental in the workplace. List some common stereotypes with your students. Their list will likely include some of the commonly tossed about ones like blondes are dumb and Asian students are smart. After creating your list, discuss the fact that these stereotypes aren’t accurate and valid representations of who these people are and that believing these stereotypes leaves you more likely to marginalize someone. To really drive the point home, personalize it. Have students divide sheets of paper in half, and on one side, write stereotypes that people may assume they fit. On the other, write things that are contrary to this stereotype. For example, the jock in your class could write on one side that people would assume he is all muscles and no brains and then write on the other that he actually loves poetry.
Engage students in simulations. Anyone can talk the talk, but can your students walk the walk? Instead of just having students talk about how they plan to behave in the future, ask them to act out situations that are related to diversity acceptance. By presenting students with situations and allowing them to try their skills out, you can help them take ownership of the acceptance skills you have taught and improve the likelihood that they actually use the skills in the future. For example, ask a group of students to act out a situation in which one worker is being culturally insensitive to another, instructing some students to show what they could do as co-workers to combat this insensitivity.
Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.