Graduation show of cultural pride stirred surprising reaction

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Kalā Kaawa was nervous at his college graduation, but not for the usual reasons. As Carla Herreria writes on the Huffington Post, the surprise Kaawa planned for the University of Hawaii’s commencement went far beyond the pranks that some grads pull.

And the families there seem to have loved his message.

Patty Talahongva, who is not affiliated with the university, wrote on her Facebook page: “Here’s to our traditional ways, which includes clothing, NOT costumes! Here’s to being true to our heritage.”

Skills that bosses want but schools seldom teach

Soft skills such as cultural competence got a boost in the Wall Street Journal from CIO Journal columnist Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who wrote about the skills that execs seek in people who have the hard skills of engineering and business.

Arabian Businesswoman with Businesspeople in backgroundOne desired trait, seldom taught in schools, is cultural competence as defined in a 2014 working paper by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism as having “a capacity to think, act and move across multiple boundaries of functions, silos and global cultures, including the sometimes insular worlds of engineering, law, and business.”

The report noted that today, when the need for cultural understanding is rising, competence among new graduates seems to be declining. This and similar skills must be mastered in the job. Executives say this is not ideal.

The students who create the guides in the Bias Busters series are learning these skills as they work and we hope that the guides lead readers to have the conversations that will help them become more culturally competent. Order one of our guides and see what we’re talking about.

International students start new year in a new country

WILX-TV did this report on how “100 Questions and Answers About Americans” is being used to help Michigan State University’s 7,000 international students get used to their host country.

The Office of International Students and Scholars, which helps those students and helped with the guide, is also working with campus police to help them do their jobs with cultural competence.

‘White is the new black’ trips over culture, context

A “White is the new Black” T-shirt is being denounced in the United States as racist. The objections come during violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police killing of an unarmed black teenager. The shirt was made by Zara, a Spanish clothing retailer.

Missing from the debate is that this expression has been used before, including with a drawing of actress Betty White. Zara has been silent about the backlash, but people speculate it is a play on “Orange is the New Black” that just doesn’t play well in the United States and especially not with racial tensions in Ferguson as a backdrop. There is no doubt the shirt was created before the Aug. 9 Ferguson killing, but people are saying that the shirt reflects a racist mindset.

The expression is not new. Previous uses, including on T-shirts, did not produce the same reaction.

Until Zara fills in some blanks, we won’t know what the thinking was or when the shirt came out. But we already have at least two lessons:
* Phrases, gestures and other signs mean different things in different cultures
* People will interpret them not just through their culture, but through their personal lenses.
Both can change the meanings.

Guide for international students now available

100 Questions and Answers About Americans,” written by U.S. students for international students, is now available on Amazon.

100 Questions and Answers About Arab Americans
100 Questions and Answers About Arab Americans

Guides are available in paperback and in digital formats.

This cultural competence guide explains American behaviors, values, language and differences.

Questions include:

* Americans speak English with many different accents. How does that occur?

* Why are there so many guns in the United States?

* When should I tip and how much should I leave?

* What is included in an American date?

Includes a glossary of American slang.

100 Questions and Answers About Indian Americans going into production

The 100-question-and-answer guide about Indians in America is moving into production. This is the first guide in a cultural competence series being published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

We plan cultural competence guides about Arab Americans, Native Americans and others.