Cultural Humility Versus Cultural Competency

Recently, I stumbled upon the phrase “Cultural Humility” in an article by the Berkeley Studies Media Group. I had heard of “Cultural Competency” which is based upon the notion that diverse groups of people have varying cultural norms and the importance of understanding these norms before you engage anyone from that community. For example, an acquaintance of mine used to work at a non-profit health clinic and she had told a story about an elderly woman who was deeply religious and upon hearing that she was diagnosed with cancer, she refused to seek treatment because she felt as though her cancer was a punishment from God. Many of the doctors struggled with her decision but she was determined not to seek treatment. She said there were a few examples of other women of a similar background who had shared this view as well.

Health professionals Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia were looking critically at the idea of “cultural competency” and felt that these types of examples were reflective of a choice of an individual and not necessarily the choices of a larger group. They determined that it is not only important to understand that cultural norms exist but it is also important not to believe we could ever achieve “competency” in the understanding of a particular group of people because every individual is more than just a list of traits.

They also advocate for all professionals who work with community to be humble by never being afraid to ask questions because each one of us is a complicated, multi-dimensional human being. Asking questions does not take away from your intelligence,  is a sign of respect and only benefits our understanding. And relationships of mutual respect will always be the most reciprocal.

The tenants of Cultural Humility are:
A) Lifelong Learning and Critical self-reflection:
·      Each one of us is a complicated, multi-dimensional human being.
·      Each of us comes with our own history, stories, point of view
B) Recognize and challenge Power Imbalances for Respectful Partnership:
·      Mitigate power imbalances inherent in dynamics
·      Respectful partnerships
C) Institutional Accountability:
·      Expose and criticize your own patterns of institutional racism, injustice and inequity
·      Institutions must commit to adopt these policies

It is my view that the role of an urban planner is to help facilitate the needs and wishes of a community (the experts of the area in which they live), and although the tenants of Cultural Humility were designed to influence more respectful and informed decision-making within the medical profession, I believe Cultural Humility is essential in achieving this goal.

You can watch a 30-minute documentary about Cultural Humility “Cultural Humility: People, Principles and Practices” by San Francisco State Professor Vivian Chávez here.

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About The Accessible City

urban planner, california

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