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Liberal to Pluralist: Learning to Celebrate Differences

Jency Thomas
Spring 2015
Learning to Celebrate Differences 2


As a pre-professional in the education realm, it is necessary to reflect

on education philosophies related to multiculturalism. As the daughter of

Indian immigrant parents, living in the U.S, race and ethnicity remain at the

forefront when it comes to considering diversity. However, as an educator I

believe it is important to recognize and give attention to other areas of

multiculturalism such as socio-economic class, gender, language, culture,

sexual preference, and disability. To better serve current and future

students, it is necessary to value other aspects of multiculturalism beyond

race and ethnicity--as they influence and effect students. My multicultural

lens has changed over time with knowledge and experience; however the

multicultural lens I most identify with is pluralism.


Reflecting on my experiences, I choose Northern Illinois University as

my undergraduate institution for one simple reason: there was a very small

Indian- American population. I grew up in an Indian household, attended an

all-Indian member church, and attended a high school with a high number of

Indian-American students. Often shyed away, while my family and peers

celebrated their culture through food, dance, holidays and traditions.

Although I was always surrounded by Indians, I knew as a group we were still

considered different from mainstream Americans. As a result, I tried to

blend in as much as possible drawing attention to my similarities with non-

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Indian peers instead of differences. According to Kincheole and Steinberg

(1997), my multicultural lens in high school and beginning of college could

be described as liberal. The authors state, When all is washed away, they

believe that peoples common humanity will illustrate that men and women

and various races and ethnicities share more commonalities than

differences. While focusing on commonalities, it was easy to be ignorant or

choose to stay oblivious to social inequality. Thankfully, college allowed me

the opportunity to move past my ignorance and better understand social

differences in relation to inequality.


During my early college years, I made the switch to viewing

multiculturalism from a liberal lens to a pluralist lens. The switch could be

attributed to a number of factors, but mainly allowed me to celebrate being

different as an Indian-American. Instead of seeking to blend in, I grew to

dislike the term white-washed or coconut (brown on the outside, white on

the inside). The text mentions the idea of multicultural literacy- which

would allow men and women from mainstream, dominant culture the ability

to operate successfully in subcultures and culturally different situations(p.

16). Similarly I was able to adapt to the mainstream culture while integrating

aspects of my Indian- American culture into everyday life. My time as an

undergrad also forced me to broaden my view of multiculturalism beyond

just concepts of race and ethnicity.

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As an undergrad, I worked for an office to gage struggles faced by first-

year students. Many voiced issues related to inadequate resources, difficulty

accessing resources and lack of knowledge about resources. Often these

students had intentions of dropping out as a result. Understanding why some

students struggled with issues I had little to no trouble with, helped me

realize the diversity in differences. As stated by Kincheloe and Steinberg

(1997), Pluralism viewed outside the power relations of the social structure

becomes a vacuous exercise that fails to explore what difference issues of

difference make in various individuals lives (p.17). I believe understanding

the differences can only better help serve students, and serve as a platform

for equality.

Pre-Professional & Beyond

As a pre-professional in education, I believe it is necessary to help

students gain access to resources and opportunities. Through the pluralist

lens this is possible, Another pluralist step in this attempt to help women

and minority groups to gain equal opportunity involves building pride in

ones heritage and cultural differences (Author of text, p.16). My current

position as a Graduate Assistant at the Asian American Resource Center

allows me to help students learn more about the Asian culture as well as

educate others on issues facing Asian Americans such as model minority

myth. Through diversity centers and careful programing, most students can

come to take pride in their differences beyond race and ethnicity. Looking

forward, Students, workers, and other individuals who belong to divergent

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socio-economic groups can learn from one another if provided the space to

exchange ideas and analyze mutual difficulties (pg.43). I believe students

thrive when learning about themselves and others, as it better prepares

them for the world. As a future educator it would be a priority to provide

students with the opportunity to do so.


Switching from a liberal to pluralistic lens when approaching diversity

as an educator is pivotal. Future students will rely on administrators such as

me to help fight inequality. Creating thriving communities with adequate

resources and support for all students can greatly impact students. I believe

my experiences growing up can be easily relatable for a number of students,

and helping students embrace their differences is a task I am to do. A

pluralist lens allows me to recognize multiculturalism as many different

components, in order to best serve a diverse student population.

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Kincheloe, J., & Steinberg S. (1997). Changing Multiculturalism. Buckingham,

Philidelphia: Open University Press.