Using Cultural Awareness To Guide Strong Student Messaging: Communicating With Intent

by Alexis Glasgow | February 3, 2022
Using Cultural Awareness To Guide Strong Student Messaging: Communicating With Intent

Part one of the three-part series that analyzes the importance of individualizing student outreach in a way that optimizes student success and uplifts students of color in the process. Check out part two on understanding individual needs. Part three dives into the ways in which we can close these gaps in communication.

Using Cultural Awareness to Guide Strong Student Messaging: Communicating With Intent

Last February, I explored the importance of increasing cultural awareness throughout a student’s educational journey. The ways in which this is possible span from simply asking a student how they are doing, to engaging in specific training that champions cultural competence in the education system. Using cultural awareness to guide strong messaging is sure to optimize student success and create a foundation for students to rely on for support in the future.

2020 brought light to the systemic issues within all facets of our society surrounding racial biases and inequities. 2021 served as an opportunity for both individuals and institutions as a whole to hold themselves accountable for their part and transform the narrative. As we enter 2022, I want to cover the fine line between forming an inclusive space for students of color through communication without ostracizing these students in the process.

Being a student of color in the higher education realm is an overwhelming experience. Where some students take this as a chance to represent their communities and be that voice of reason, others feel that this is a daunting task that can often distract them from their studies and goals. In order to form this safe space, higher education professionals must realize that inclusion looks different depending on the individual. Understanding these differing points of view allows higher education professionals to pinpoint which outreach strategies are most effective, while showing where there is room for improvement on old habits.

Adapting Your Outreach

The relationship between society and how that is presented in an institution is not something that many institutions consider when reaching out to their students. As the world continues to throw curveballs at our students, such as COVID-19 regulations, social justice movements and financial responsibility, it is important to adapt to communication styles that keep those impactful things in mind. This can alternatively be looked at as communicating with intent, which goes beyond completing a task or checking something off of a list.

Using this concept of regenerative education allows for a clear goal to be set. You want students to succeed, so you will give them the tools to grow that are specific to their unique experiences. As a higher education professional, it can be hard to realize that your messages are unintentionally harming students of color. What it boils down to is focusing on the intention of a text and how that may be received by someone that could be having the opposite experience. It is not accurate to assume that someone that is passing their classes and completing their degree is having a good experience in college. Especially if that student represents 6% of an institution that is predominantly white.

A Day in the Life

Our reality as students of color is that we are often being advised, taught, and surrounded by people that do not look like us and do not have to face the barriers we are presented with throughout our daily lives. It may seem appropriate to send a message to students congratulating them on completing their semester and reminding them to sign up for their next semester classes, and in some cases it is. However, I encourage you to place yourself in the shoes of a Black student. Speaking from personal experience, this is how most days go:

Imagine that you wake up to news of yet another instance of racial injustice going on in the world. All morning you are presented with the emotional struggle of processing these events while also realizing that you have to go to class and speak on these events as one of the only people of color in your class. The empathy from your classmates and professor seems endearing to most, but is extremely overwhelming to someone that experiences this injustice their entire lives. While walking to your next class, you get a message from your Academic Advisor:

This message, while positive in its tone, lacks intention. Communication with cultural awareness begins with you as an advisor, becoming aware of the fact that there are serious events going on in the world that directly impact your students of color. As a result of this awareness, reframing that message with intent looks something like:

Reinforcing the fact that every student requires different attention and that you as an institution are there to support that student in their success is the difference between communicating with awareness and communicating to get through the list. Keeping this in mind allows higher education professionals to think about what the true goals of their outreach are and how they can achieve this without undermining the experiences of some students in the process.

Part two of our series will dive into how these individual needs can be understood in the higher education realm. This includes what information should be taken into consideration, examples of how to boost your outreach by personalizing your messaging, as well as outlining specific ways in which students of color can feel seen and heard by their institutions.

To Learn More

To learn more about the impact of communicating with awareness, read our blog on How to Support Queer and Trans Students: Using Names & Pronouns In Texts.

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