BLOG: All Things Higher Ed

Why all college students should take a crash course in culture

Cultural awareness has never been more important, and many college students are encountering classmates, professors, and co-workers whose cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities, and identities may be very different from their own. In today's interconnected world, multiculturalism extends beyond creating an inclusive classroom and requires people to think of different ways to discover the beauty that lies within every culture and community around the world.

Learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion at Central Michigan University.

Explore diversity at CMU


Types of cultural diversity

On the surface, cultural diversity may seem as if it is limited to the physical differences that we can see — often related to race or ethnicity. But cultural diversity extends far beyond that, including:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Language
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Ability

So, whether you are trying to connect with another peer who doesn’t speak English or you are looking for ways to share your own culture, you’ll find that cultural awareness is essential. 

In college, when students are just beginning to find their footing as established individuals and adults with their own set of goals, cultural awareness and respect for diversity is critical. By creating a foundation of recognition and respect for differences, students grow into graduates who are prepared for leadership positions in whatever field they choose.

Why it's important to understand other cultures

Learning about different cultures is an experience that’s beneficial to everyone, regardless of age and stage of life. During your college years at Central Michigan University, you’ll find that a commitment to cultural understanding will help you:

Broaden knowledge

Any cultural appreciation effort or endeavor is going to broaden your knowledge of other communities and cultures. This may sound basic and even surface-level, but you’ll be surprised how deep this knowledge can go. By learning more about the people you are interacting with and their belief systems, community identities and valued traditions, you start to understand what influences them daily. It helps you develop a better sense of appreciation and respect and may even spark a passion inside of you that you never knew existed.

Develop cultural awareness

Many students beginning to study on a college campus are in a more diverse environment than they have ever been in before. When you grow up in a community where everyone looks and sounds like you, you won’t have the same opportunities to develop cultural awareness as those who grow up in a more diverse environment. As you seek to meet new people and learn more about their backgrounds and beliefs, you develop a natural sense of cultural awareness that leads to better understanding and stronger connections. Through cultural awareness efforts, you begin to dispel the myths of stereotypes and develop a sense of appreciation for the differences in those around you. True cultural awareness goes beyond seeing those differences — it allows you to recognize the beauty in those differences as well.

Enhance personal growth

Learning about the cultures and beliefs of others helps you understand them better, but it also helps you grow on a personal level. As you discover the different ways that people live, work and play, you naturally begin to evaluate your own belief systems. You may start to uncover more about your own culture and seek to learn more about another culture. It may change some attitudes and beliefs that you have and help you become a more open-minded and accepting person.

Enhance professional growth

Cultural understanding is critical to any professional's success, regardless of industry. Today's economy is increasingly diverse, and most professionals will regularly interact with people from other countries who speak a language other than English, practice a different religion than their own or are rooted in various cultural traditions and beliefs. When you can successfully navigate these professional connections with respect and awareness, you’ll find that your professional career will skyrocket to new heights. Leading employers around the world are looking for qualified individuals who not only have experience in their field but who also have a natural sense of respect and appreciation for those around them.

Minimize stereotypes

Unfortunately, stereotypes are prevalent, and many unfair stereotypes exist for nearly every community or culture. Stereotypes are often defined as widely held beliefs that oversimplify a particular group or population, and in many cases, they present a particular group of people in a negative light. Stereotypes can have a strong and lasting hold, but cultural awareness can help reduce the power of stereotypes significantly. The more people interact and engage with people who are different from them, the more they recognize that most stereotypes are both untrue and unfair. As you seek to understand the cultures of the people around you, you begin to see that stereotypes are often painful, distracting and false — and you begin to dispel some of the beliefs that you may have had about a particular community.

Help prevent divisions

In theory, our differences should bring us together, but they can often create divisions. Those divisions almost always result directly from a lack of awareness or understanding. You may hold a negative view of a particular group of people or culture that is based on a stereotype that was reinforced throughout your upbringing, which can result in you resisting interaction with that particular group. However, by actively working to build those connections and create relationships with a diverse group of people, you can help prevent divisions in your own life and in society as a whole.

Gain new experiences

The fact of the matter is that actively seeking to increase your cultural awareness can be very fun. Through these efforts, you will start to enjoy new experiences. Some of those experiences may include:

  • Participating in a religious ceremony that you have never experienced before. This is an opportunity for hands-on learning that can help you understand others’ rites and rituals while also discovering the similarities and differences between their beliefs and your own.
  • Celebrating a holiday with a roommate’s family. Most people are eager to share information about their own culture, and holidays are a perfect opportunity for sharing.
  • Enjoying a meal that reflects the traditions and flavors of another culture. Food is one of the best ways to explore others’ cultures and develop a better understanding of their community. Everyone can connect over a delicious meal, which is why food is such a unifying force.

The more you participate in these types of cultural exploration activities, the more you will want to in the future. This is a fun and engaging way to increase your cultural awareness while forging connections with your classmates on campus.

Learn to celebrate diversity

Our differences do not have to be uncomfortable or awkward — but we understand that it can be difficult to venture out of your comfort zone. However, the more you continue learning about different cultures, the more you will celebrate diversity in all its forms. New people, places, and experiences will be less intimidating, and you will find it more natural to engage with people of all backgrounds because you are aware of your differences, you understand their cultural influences and you respect them as individuals.

How to promote multiculturalism at school

There are so many different ways to raise awareness about all cultures and communities within a college setting. It begins by allowing students to celebrate their own culture and to share with others the traditions that are important to them. It continues by creating strategic, purposeful experiences that allow students to connect with one another to learn more about the people they share their campus with. Cultural awareness must be an ongoing commitment in which everyone continues to learn, grow and discover along the way.

At Central Michigan University, we are proud to be an inclusive, diverse and welcoming campus, and we support all our students. You can learn about the different ways that we are raising cultural awareness on a daily basis by contacting our Multicultural Academic Student Services office today.


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