Purpose and Need
Our nation has evolved from a period in the 1800's, when racial
discrimination was written into our laws, to a period in the 1960's and 1970's
in which such discrimination was declared illegal. During the 1960's and 1970's,
it may have been acceptable to say: "I treat everyone the same." This was
considered a fair and liberal way of treating others. However, this stance has
certain limitations; it assumes that sameness equals fairness, an
assumption that only holds true if the values and norms of people involved in an
interaction are similar. An outline of the process individuals go through
to move beyond this assumption of similarity is provided in the work of
Milton Bennett, who authored the Developmental Model of Intercultural
Sensitivity. According to his model, such a statement places the speaker in
an early stage of intercultural sensitivity (Bennett, 1993).
In the '80's and 90's organizations have attempted to go beyond mere
discrimination issues and even to "celebrate diversity." However, celebration of
diversity falls far short of what is needed for effective collaboration between
mainstream agencies and ethnic minority communities. For organizations or
individuals to move beyond "celebration" to a real ability to work appropriately
with cultural difference requires a planned sequence of development.
Bennett describes six stages of development in intercultural sensitivity. The
stages provide a good framework for determining how to work with and improve the
capacity for intercultural sensitivity and collaboration. Some of his stages of
"cultural sensitivity" include behaviors or adaptations the authors include
under the definition of "cultural competence."
1. Bennett refers to the first stage of the model as "denial." It
means that people in this stage are very unaware of cultural difference. If
mainstream agency staff are in this stage of intercultural sensitivity, a huge
problem can be expected in the delivery of education, health, and social
services for ethnic minorities, a gap that does currently exist when these
groups are compared to Anglo Americans. The task for staff at this first stage
of intercultural sensitivity is to recognize cultural differences that
are escaping their notice.
2. Whereas in the first stage we do not "see" cultural differences, in the
second stage of cultural competence we do perceive cultural differences;
however, differences from ourselves or the norms of our group are labeled very
negatively. They are experienced as a threat to the centrality and "rightness"
of our own value system. Bennett calls this stage "defense."
If staff of mainstream agencies achieve the second level of intercultural
sensitivity, they still fail to communicate effectively with ethnic minorities.
If they cannot communicate effectively, they cannot do the more complex task of
collaborating effectively. The task in the second level of cultural sensitivity
is recognize and to become more tolerant of differences and to see
basic similarities among people of different cultures. However, little
improvement in services can be expected if staff are below the third level of
3. In the third stage of intercultural sensitivity, minimization, we
try to avoid stereotypes and even appreciate differences in language and
culture. However, we still view many of our own values as universal, rather than
viewing them simply as part of our own ethnicity. The task at the third level of
intercultural sensitivity is to learn more about our own culture and to
avoid projecting that culture onto other people's experience.
This stage is particularly difficult to pass through when one cultural group
has vast and unrecognized privileges when compared to other groups. This problem
is so invisible that persons in mainstream agencies are often mystified when
representatives of ethnic minorities consistently withdraw from collaborative
4. A reasonable goal for many mainstream agencies is to ensure that all staff
achieve at least the fourth developmental level in intercultural sensitivity.
The fourth stage in Bennett's model requires us to be able to shift perspective,
while still maintaining our commitments to values. The task in this stage is to
understand that the same behavior can have different meanings in different
cultures. The comparisons that follow in the Toolkit can be particularly helpful
for staff of mainstream agencies to improve their intercultural sensitivity in
this stage of development. In order for collaboration to be successful
long-term, this stage of intercultural sensitivity must be reached by the
participants of the collaborative process. Bennett calls this stage
5. The fifth stage of intercultural sensitivity, adaptation, may allow
the person to function in a bicultural capacity. In this stage, a person is able
to take the perspective of another culture and operate successfully within that
culture. This ability usually develops in a two-part sequence. It requires that
the person know enough about his or her own culture and a second culture to
allow a mental shift into the value scheme of the other culture, and an
evaluation of behavior based on its norms, not the norms of the first
individual's culture of origin. This is referred to as "cognitive
adaptation." The more advanced form of adaptation is "behavioral
adaptation," in which the person can produce behaviors appropriate to
the norms of the second culture. Persons serving as liaisons between a
mainstream agency and an ethnic minority group need to be at this level of
6. In the sixth stage, the person can shift perspectives and frames of
reference from one culture to another in a natural way. They become adept at
evaluating any situation from multiple frames of reference. Some representatives
in cross-cultural collaboration may reach this level, but most probably will
Stage six requires in-depth knowledge of at least two cultures (one's
own and another), and the ability to shift easily into the other cultural
frame of reference. The task at this level of development is to handle the
identity issues that emerge from this cultural flexibility. Bennett calls this
final stage of intercultural sensitivity "integration."
Such persons may not be trusted by the ethnic community that they
"represent." In addition, if the representatives are assimilated rather than
bicultural, they may also want to "correct" some of the key values or usual
behaviors of the ethnic minority culture.