MESI Week: Ravan Charles on Internalizing Cultural Competency

I am Ravan Charles, an evaluation newbie from Omaha, Nebraska. I’m writing about how my personal experience at the 2015 Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute (MESI) Spring Training will influence the way I do evaluation for the rest of my life.

I have to admit, I was skeptical when I saw the conference theme – ‘Social Justice Amidst Standards and Accountability: The Challenge for Evaluation’ with an emphasis on cultural competence. It is probably important to note that I am a black woman. I grew up in a world where cultural competence was for white people. Cultural competence meant the white lady facilitating my all-black tween girls’ group was able to code-switch fluently, or my sociology professor making sure to call on me whenever we talked about race in class (every day, it was a long semester). My perception was that cultural competency was something that white people were trained to be good at (by other white people).

When I walked into the conference, I instinctively scanned the room for other black and brown faces. I saw one… two… seven…. I lost count. Of the many trainings, conferences, and college classes that I have attended in my life this was the very first where I felt that there was adequate people-of-color representation. I had never realized how important racial diversity is to me until my need for it was satisfied. Once it was, I was able to notice and more deeply appreciate other types of diversity in the rooms. Furthermore, I was able to become more actively engaged and take ownership of the training.

Lesson Learned: When I was able to see myself across the room, in the lunch line, and even at the podium I no longer felt like a spectator. I realized that being culturally competent is about continuously learning from, sharing, and honoring our differences and using that knowledge to create things together. That is just as valuable to me as anyone else. Seeing myself in the room allowed me to see myself as an evaluator, and as someone who wants to be a good one.

I plan to use this experience inform my future work. For me, being culturally competent will mean that I not only strive to interact effectively with clients, I will also work at ensuring that every individual that participates will be able to see their self in every part of the work. My hope is that if every participant feels well-represented throughout they will feel the same sense of ownership and engagement I felt at MESI.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating MESI Spring Training Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from evaluators who presented at or attended the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute Spring Training. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “MESI Week: Ravan Charles on Internalizing Cultural Competency”

  1. Thank you Ravan for your commentary. This is relevant to me not just regarding the MESI conference, but as it relates to experiences throughout my educational and professional life as well. I “matured”, if you will, as a practitioner and professional sort of in the heyday of the implementation – in both higher education and the workplace – of “diversity” training/awareness. I feel like it hit an evolutionary peak (or maturation of its own)in the last couple of decades, and some of it has actually now become useful instead of a forced HR exercise. Some can validly argue that it was going on long before I was in grad school, and subsequently in the professional world, and that my identification of this period as the “heyday” is off target. But that’s just my impression.

    Further, I hate doing this, but I feel obliged to self-identify that I am a white 40-something male (also more background, I delayed grad school until my early 30s). Your comments are important to me because, as you mention or allude to, you rarely hear the critical observations or commentary of someone for whom it really has a meaningful impact on whether or not this “training/awareness” really means or changes anything. Alternatively, if you do hear feedback from anyone, it’s nearly all negative from everyone involved – e.g., eye-rolling, “time for our annual diversity class”…

    Anyhow, this is pretty far off topic of the MESI conference itself, but I did want to acknowledge to you that your comments had meaning for me. And finally, this was my first encounter with the term “cultural competence,” which I feel is a much more constructive frame from which to think of these issues affecting us all in our particular fields and workplaces.

    Mainly just a note to say that I appreciate your commentary on your MESI experience.

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