Teaching Multi-Cultural Students in the U.S.: Cross-Cultural Factors That Impact Classroom Teaching


Patricia M. Hopkins (2001) ,"Teaching Multi-Cultural Students in the U.S.: Cross-Cultural Factors That Impact Classroom Teaching", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Paula M. Tidwell and Thomas E. Muller, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 296-298.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 2001      Pages 296-298


Patricia M. Hopkins, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, U.S.A.

"Our actions today will determine whether we realize our hope for a competent and prosperous workforce tomorrow"

Workforce 2000BHudson Institute

The student body at Cal Poly Pomona today represents a unique learning opportunity for faculty, students and administrators to work within a microcosm of the diversity of human experience. A critical mass of different cultures gives way to new and different learning styles and aspirations. This paper will provide background information, observations and solutions to teaching in Multi cultural settings.


Diversity is about developing tomorrow’s leadership today. In fact the workforce of the twenty-first century will be very different. This diversity is not a future event. What the present century guarantees is that there will be an increase in diversity. This is not about replacing one group with anotherBit is about the fact that the world will be racially, ethnically and culturally different. In the United States by the year 2050 the population is expected to increase by 50% with today’s minority groups making up nearly half the population Immigration will account for two-thirds of the Nation’s population growth. One quarter of all Americans will be or Hispanic origin. Almost one in ten will be of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. The successful leaders are going to be thse individuals who can breakout and straddle multiple ethnic groups. In the world today there are growing numbers of intermarriages, which give people Multi-cultural identities. Historical conflicts between black and white are blurring into multiple variations in identity.

The change in our cultural identity reaches into every aspect of our lives in the global economy. For example of the ten best recipes of 1999 according to the Los Angeles Times newspaper six have been borrowed and modified from minority cultures. Such intriguing delicacies as Tom Yum Soup from Bangkok, Grilled Pork chops with Pablano Sauce (Hispanic), Cucumber Kimchi (Korean) and Squash and Bean Sprout fritters from the Philippines. The most popular food is Pizza followed by Spaghetti with the traditional American hamburger now relegated to ninth place. Diversity is a way of life and we have the challenge of aligning business, educational systems, governments, with our own understand and world reality.

The companies of tomorrow will be efficient, but will also face brutal competition. Citizens will be able to enjoy culture from all over the worldBfrom Opera to Oprah. At the click of a mouse there is access to great encyclopedias and racist propaganda. By 2005 U.S. Department of Commerce predicts sixty percent of all jobs in America will require skills currently held by only twenty percent of the population. The gap between have and have nots is growing wider everyday. The earning power of high school versus college graduates has fallen by thirty percent in less than twenty years. Technology and globalization present additional challenges. As the number of high-paying jobs increases, well-paid, low-skill jobs are becoming hard to find. Globalization has made is easier for businesses to find low-skill workers at lower pay in other parts of the globe. Technology has also made many jobs obsolete. There is certainly inequality throughout the world in opportunities for students to succeed by obtaining the education they need to be fruitful members of society.


The Chart below provides information regarding the census classification for Los Angeles County and for Cal Poly Pomona.

         Los Angeles County 2000 Census estimate 10 million population        Cal Poly Pomona 18,000 students

Hispanic                          45%                                                                                          25%

White                              33%                                                                                          32%

Asian                               12%                                                                                          37%

Black                                9%                                                                                            4%

Other                                1%                                                                                            2%

Student profiles in most public institutions in the United States have changed significantly and most reflect some of the following characteristics.

Ba high percentage of first generation students

Bstudents with a broad range of prior academic experiences and preparation

Ba high percentage of returning and older students

Ba high percentage of students who began theircollege work at other institutions

Ba majority of students who commute from off-campus and have no on campus "place"

Ba majority of students who work half-time or more, most of whom work off campus

Ba large number of students who attend part time and who expect to take more than six years to graduate

Combine these characteristics with diverse demographics and the known negative influences on learning such as living at home and commuting, full-time employment off campus, large institutional size and lack of community among students and one realizes the need for change in teaching approaches.

From inception education at most colleges and universities around the world has sought to expose students to a range of disciplines in the hopes that a set of specific skills would be developed. Most of the presentations in courses tended to have a monocultural ethnocentric focus. The feasibility of interdisciplinary team teaching while ideal in theory for presenting diverse views has not been implemented well at most Universities. In my opinion because it requires more effort and more important to the administration does take more resources.

Today’s world demands that all students be exposed to the diversity of human experience. Culturally responsive teaching is an effort to describe the process of teaching with regard to the diversity of the students and classroom composition. The choices of course content and teaching style might compromise the learning styles of particular groups. Past approaches seemed narrow in focus and omitted reference to alternative minority views. Distortion and misunderstanding occurred with respect to experience of people outside the "mainstream". The remedy is inclusion, comparison and correction. The basis for different values and culturally perceived assumptions need to be understood. The danger is one of asserting the dominant paradigm.

When I began teaching in the University system I was faced with students almost all of who had the same educational experience with the same expectations and aspirations. The majority of these students were white middle/upper class, a sprinkling of African Americans and Hispanics and few if any students of Asian descent. These students had been subject to the same educational system since kindergarten. They knew the rules; the behavior and they obeyed them. The lecture mode of imparting knowledge was the norm. Homework assignments were taken seriously. Students understood that being in attendance, being on time and paying attention were expected. Excuses and argumentation were never offered for poor performance and students struggled to achieve passing grades. In the spring quarter of 1999 I returned to teaching full time after an absence of thirteen years. During my years as an administrator of academic programs I certainly interacted with the changing student body but it was as an observer, a higher authority and as a court of last resort for complaints. Some how I believed that I was ministering to the weakest segment of the university population. In retrospect I believe I was probably dealing with the most aggressive of the "new" student populations.

Many of us have noticed no matter what our disciplineBthat students come to class less and less prepared and less and less willing to engage in the discussions that are so critical to successful learning in international business and marketing. Some students come prepared and willing to talk, some come having read the material but reluctant to talk, some come having not read the assignment and some do not come at all. In an average class of 35 to 40 students three or four students are prepared and willing to talk in class. But intimidation sets in unconsciously and after a few class sessions the peer pressure keeps them silent. Or it could be that they resent carrying the whole load. The group of students who come and do not talk and those that do not come at all grows larger. This lack of comitment is worrisome because it contributes to poor student success.

Defects in student character or differences in cultural forces may have caused some of this lack of compliance and attendance. Or perhaps it was the nature of commuter campuses, the extraordinary pressures of job and family and the many emergencies that intrude into the students’ ability to succeed in college. I do not know what caused the disaster but I began to examine my expectations of student reaction to my courses holistically. The students themselves were different. The new demographics of the classroom presented to me an equal distribution of Asian, Anglo and Hispanic students with a meager number of African Americans and others. This new mix meant that the traditional structure that I had been using was not working. I had always assigned reading; problems and cases assuming that students would take the initiative to complete the work. The problem I decided was that they did not understand what was required. I needed to spell out exactly what was needed at basic levels such as: you must buy the book, you must read it and come to class, and you must observe deadlines or makes special arrangements when you miss them.

I developed a much more detailed syllabus, which included not only the required assignments, levels of participation and grading procedures but also the requirements in detail for behavior. Such asBturn off cell phones and pagers, be on time, don’t walk out obtrusively and don’t disappear. My next task was to place copies of problem sets, examples of case studies and term projects in the library. In addition I changed the format of the class -forcing more interactive participation. Instead of assigning general readings I assigned specific groups to present findings. Fifteen minutes per class was devoted to discussion in small groups. I encouraged participation by asking questions. It was a contest of endurance at the beginning. As the quarter progressed confidence and cooperation improved. I created study groups and had in class small groups projects some of which required role-playing. Each activity helped the students interact with one another and as the term proceeded they felt more comfortable with each other. I use a number of different forms of examinations among them multiple choice extracted from data banks supplied by the authors of textbooks. In order to help students I encouraged them to develop their own set of notes, which they could use during multiple-choice tests. The assignment provided two things. First of all it encourages students to actually read the text and search for the important points. Secondly, it helped the two thirds of the class who first language was something other than English. The discipline of International Marketing provided me with an easy way to integrate the culture of the world into my classroom. Students presented their work in class and made presentations on their research on different countries.

I encouraged the students to come and visit me during office hours. Those that came generally appeared to master the concepts better and received in general better grades. Evaluations of team members provided feedback on how the process was working. After two quarter of experience and many adjustments in the variety of activities attempted the level of understanding has improved. The levels of accomplishments are still very different and will remain so until all members of the society have equal opportunities throughout the educational experience. In the meantime I will continue to expand for my students the value and meaning of differences (including those based on racial identity, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation and culture). Cal Poly Pomona has the critical mass of diverse students necessary in order to achieve an environment where non-white students can feel comfortable and white students can dissolve myths, stereotypes and prejudices.

Structural diversity benefits all "the greater the structural diversity at an institution the more likely students are to socialize across racial/ethnic groups and the more frequently they are willing to discuss racial and ethnic issues. Creating diverse environments whee everyone feels comfortable and welcome should be a fundamental concern. Remember the objective is not to create the sameness or melting pot philosophy of the twentieth century but to create a cafeteria/smorgasbord of appreciation for differences. We may never agree on the true punctuation of:

    "Woman, without her man, is nothing."


    "Woman! Without her, man in nothing."

We seek humor and understanding in gender differences. Different is not badBjust different. Research shows that diversity can increase innovation and problem solving. If we can master thisBwe can create a competitive advantage in our global economy.


Begin, Bret, " U.S.A.: The Way we’ll live then," Newsweek January 1, 2000

Close, Ellis, "Our New Look: The Colors of Race," Newsweek January 1, 2000

Harris, Scott, "Retreat of the Race-Baiters," Los Angeles Times Magazine, December 19, 1999

Lasley, Paul & Harryman, Elizabeth, "Positive Impact"Travel can build bridges in the next millennium, Westways January/February 2000

Lieberman, Devorah A & Goucher, Candice L., "Multi-cultural Education & University Studies," The Journal of General Education, Pennsylvania State University Press Vol.48 No.2, 1999

Turner, Richard C. "Adapting to a New Generation of College Students," The NEA Higher Educational Journal, Vol. XV, No. 2 fall 1999

Wheeler, Michael L., "DiversityBDeveloping Tomorrow’s Leadership Today," Business Week, December 20, 1999

White, Charles R., "Conceiving University Studies," The Journal of General Education, Pennsylvania State University Press, Vol. 48, No. 2, 1999

"Ten BestBOur Favorite Recipes of 1999," Los Angeles Times December 19, 1999



Patricia M. Hopkins, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, U.S.A.


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 2001

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