My Experiences with Diversity

diversityBy Christie Hyland — Diversity is a big topic in mental health today.

How can a therapist best serve clients of diverse backgrounds? Developing multicultural competency is an important part of being an effective counselor, so I thought I would explore my own experiences with diversity.

My hometown, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, has a population of around 3,000 people. In 2010, the population was about 86% white, 10% Native American, and the remaining 4% black, Asian, or multiracial.

Despite my town’s homogeneous population, I grew up embracing diversity and was interested in learning about different cultures. I can remember when this interest likely first emerged. I was in second grade. My teacher read a story about how America was a melting pot of people of many different races, and that this was something to embrace. We could all learn from each other’s differences, and that despite our differences, we all had many similarities. However, I soon learned that differences weren’t always embraced.

As I got older, I learned that people who looked differently, lived differently, and loved differently were often treated unfairly. When I learned about the Civil War in fourth grade, I was appalled that slavery existed in the Land of the Free. All men are created equal, so why not black men? Senior year, I learned that women are not guaranteed equal rights as men under the Constitution. This bit of knowledge came while researching for a presentation I gave on women’s rights. I almost changed my presentation topic because I feared I might receive backlash from my male classmates for being a feminist. I learned about the pilgrims and the Indians as early as kindergarten. But in college, I learned that the warm and welcoming Indians faced centuries of atrocities, including genocide, boarding schools, and forced sterilization. I found contradictions in what I was taught in school. I learned that our country that prided itself on fairness and equality had a long history of injustice.

Every injustice I learned about stirred feelings of anger, sadness, and empathy for those affected. My feelings and knowledge fuel a passion for helping others who were mistreated because of their differences. I recognize the importance of living in a diverse society. I think living and learning from those who are different from us, whether it be the color of their skin, the God they pray to, the amount of money they make, or the language they sing in, is incredibly valuable.

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