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Diversity Fellows Create New Realities

  Anvita Mada-Bahel and Christine Yeh
 

Anvita Madan-Bahel and Christine Yeh.

   
  John Broughton and Jessica Hochman.
 

John Broughton and Jessica Hochman.

   

Since President Levine's 1999 call for an institution, "in which there is no 'us and them,''' (Report of the Summer 1999 Teachers College Task force on Diversity and Community), the faculty and staff have been attempting to create a working community committed to supporting diversity.

The then Interim Dean, Professor Edmund Gordon, and the members of the Faculty Executive Committee's Subcommittee on Race, Culture, and Diversity provided $3,500 stipend and six tuition credits for each of two "Diversity Fellows," each academic semester.

Proposals by Professor John Broughton in the Department of Arts and Humanities and Professor Christine Yeh in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology won the Subcommittee's approval.

Yeh selected Anvita Madan-Bahel, who is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology Program, to enhance the course, Perspectives in Cross-Cultural Counseling. Yeh said Madan-Bahel will help to create and build alliances with culturally based community agencies and programs that will increase the practical relevance of
the course. Madan-Bahel is an international student from Delhi, India, and described her own culture as being reluctant to embrace western forms of talk therapy. She is interested in working with the ethnic minority populations, in particular, South Asians.

Cross-Cultural Counseling is intended to teach students theoretical perspectives on how to counsel people from different cultures. "What we found was that there's a lot of literature on how to do that from a western perspective, meaning how to provide talk therapy to clients, but there isn't a lot of theory, information, or training activities for students who want to learn indigenous healing methods from the culture of origin," said Yeh.

The course is having an impact on how student counselors work with their clients. "We are asking clients questions that are outside of the box or atypical for an initial interview. We might ask them about their spiritual life or about their mind/body relationship, you would not typically begin counseling in this way. It can be very validating for immigrant communities in particular because that may be the primary way in which they experience their concerns," she said.

Madan-Bahel had earlier served as a teaching assistant in Perspectives in Cross-Cultural Counseling. Yeh wants to provide a more intensive training about indigenous healing for students and Madan-Bahel is playing an important role in making this a reality. "Part of what we wanted to do was enhance their training by offering resources, whether they are in the community or from other fields, about the perspectives of healing from particular cultures. I am creating a list of resources in the New York City area of healers from diverse cultures and from organizations and institutes that study different cultural perspectives on cross-cultural counseling. We will attempt to integrate that information into the practice component of the course," said Madan-Bahel.

Yeh explained the concept of an indigenous healer. "One of the things that we've realized, particularly since September 11th-and how people have responded to the World Trade Center attacks-is that people cope and deal with mental health stress in very different ways. People from different cultures are going to respond very differently. We have a particular expectation that certain people are going to want to talk about their problems or emote. But for many cultures that can be very embarrassing or very shameful, so often times they engage in alternative ways of coping with stress, and people who facilitate this process of dealing with stress are often viewed as healers."

Madan-Bahel added, "For some people the subtle ways of a healer work better than working with contemporary practitioners. Making students aware that these are acceptable ways of healing and bringing healers into a session to collaborate with counselors and potential clients could be very helpful."

Yeh said that at a time when the United States is becoming more culturally diverse, notions of indigenous healers will become more integrated in the counseling discipline. "More immigrants will be coming here," said Yeh, and we are going to see clients who are going to need these traditional perspectives integrated into typical counseling sessions. How we understand these perspectives is very critical. At the very least, I'd like students to understand that there are multiple ways that people are going to naturally or informally cope with problems and that those strategies are valid and culturally relevant."

"What we're really trying to do is help students understand their own world view, and how it contributes biases or expectations they may have about particular clients."

The Diversity Fellow selected by John Broughton is Jessica Hochman, a doctoral candidate in the Philosophy and Education Program in the department of Arts and Humanities. Although her academic background is in Philosophy and Gender Studies, she has been a long-time devotee of the educational applications of computer technologies.

Her primary experience with diversity issues in education has been via a two-year internship with HarlemLive, an extracurricular on-line publication produced by teens in Harlem. Working as a supervisor, she helped the female students start a girls' page on the site called "It's A She Thang," and worked with the students to address some of the gender inequities that existed within the organization.

She now works with Playing 2 Win, a community technology center in Harlem, where she is helping to develop a young women's technology project that will focus on preserving oral histories of women in Harlem via photography and digital video, as well as through writing exercises.

These two projects have engaged Jessica's interests in youth cultures and the roles of gender and ethnicity in high technology. "Through the Diversity Fellowship," she said, "I plan to help faculty integrate some of these themes into the Cultural Studies and Philosophy curricula in my program. With Professor Broughton, I'll be developing a workshop on these issues for interested members of the TC community, to be held in the summer of 2002." This workshop is planned also as the starting point for the creation of a new course on issues of ethnicity and technology.

Working in collaboration with department chair Hal Abeles, Hochman is also offering her help to other faculty and students in her department. "As far as I'm able," she said, "I'd like to serve as a resource person on the broad range of diversity issues in the field of educational technology."

"What led me to select Ms. Hochman for the fellowship," Broughton told us, "is her experience with concrete learning projects outside of formal schooling, her expertise on gender issues, and her ambitious plan to reinterpret advances in contemporary technology as contributions to the humanities. I think she can be a stimulus in our department for practical and critical discussions of the key diversity issues outside of a strictly social-scientific context."

     

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