Cultural Competency: Points from the Breakout Workshop

I participated in a Yoga Service Conference session entitled Best Practices for Cultural Competency and came away with a lot of thoughts! What I think loved the most about this session is that it made me think – and write, on my own, later! – excessively, rather than list notes during the talk. I think this speaks to both the value of this session as well as the talent of these speakers as educators in a general sense.
It’s challenging to try to summarize what was presented on a topic which is potentially very sensitive – it’s also my goal to maintain the privacy of individuals who participated alongside me. It’s probably best to read this post as what I came away with and am sharing, keeping in mind that my focus may differ from what the presenters intended, and that I am omitting some information in order to keep the confidentiality of the group.
Professor of Journalism Tamara Jeffries, and Dr. Santiba Campbell, Professor of Psychology, framed their presentation in terms of their experience bringing a for-credit yoga class to Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Bennett is a small, private historically black college. They were explicit that this was their experience, in a specific setting, which was distinct from some of the various settings yoga service teachers may work in.  I thought it still made a lot of sense to have a very specific starting point to serve as a context, rather than speaking only in generalities.

Among the points they covered were the history of HBCU’s (historically black colleges and universities) – these weren’t a “chosen” form of segregation; African Americans were not able to enroll in other universities. They also discussed cultural competence in terms of spirituality and health.  For yogis with stronger religious views, chanting or even hearing Sanskrit they don’t understand may be alienating; physically in terms of body type and size, their classes included body types that were likely different from a stereotypical “yoga body”. It also became clear in the context of students writing essays on the benefits of yoga that depression and anxiety were far more common concerns than either presenter had anticipated.
More broadly, Ms. Jeffries and Dr. Campbell pointed out the need not only for “safe spaces” to discuss issues like race and cultural competency, but also “brave spaces”, where people may go out on a limb a bit to ask questions and share ideas. They spoke to the importance of all of us acknowledging “I don’t know what I don’t know.” For yoga teachers interested in offering yoga to communities they consider “underserved” or just outside of their “own” (as subjective as these terms can be, they serve a purpose in order to discuss important ideas), they mentioned also considering the reasons why these communities lack access to yoga.

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