Cultural Competency Work Group opens doors to diversity

An attempt to standardize the elements of emotional and physical safety for all members of the Portland State community is currently underway. This endeavor is called cultural competency and is a research project for the School of Education led by the Associated Students of PSU Academic Affairs Director Tia Gomez-Zeller. The research for the project is supported, in part, by ASPSU.

Throughout August, Gomez-Zeller and the Cultural Competency Work Group will be analyzing data collected from students across campus in an online survey to help form a policy that will be the basis for instructing teachers on how to be culturally competent in the classroom.

“Cultural competency is about providing faculty, staff and students on campus with the rules that are necessary to create a welcoming, safe and validating environment for all students,” said ASPSU Equal Rights Director Galen Russell, who is a member of the Cultural Competency Work Group.

Russell said the surveys will include various questions relating to students’ experiences in the classroom. Students rate experiences on campus regarding instructor quality, and how welcome and safe they feel.

Gomez-Zeller said that the group is trying to look at the cultural competency of the faculty and staff from a student’s perspective.

“When we talk about cultural competency it’s a really big term, and it’s kind of an umbrella term,” Gomez-Zeller said. “So, under cultural competency you have cultural knowledge, you have cultural awareness and cultural skills. And those are three pieces that go separately, but go together to make cultural competency.”

A goal of the project is to teach people to be sensitive to others’ cultural backgrounds in both campus and professional settings. Gomez-Zeller hopes the research will benefit everyone, but particularly those who are adjusting to campus life.

“We have thousands of international students who are struggling on how to communicate, how to present themselves, how to learn, how to integrate themselves, how to adjust to this culture, to this university,” she said.

“My vision is [that]…we will be on a campus where we’re learning constantly from each other and we’re learning about different cultures. We are critically thinking how those cultures affect us and how our own culture affects our perspective,” Gomez-Zeller said.

Part of the process for the group involved working with 17 focus groups and 60 students during spring term. Gomez-Zeller hopes to use the gathered information, in addition to the new data from the survey, to formulate a working set of guidelines and campus policy to help refine social protocols with an emphasis on keeping everyone emotionally safe.

Gomez-Zeller said that she is hoping to have a first draft of the policy ready by Sept. 1. The policy ultimately has to be approved by the Board of Trustees, which Gomez-Zeller hopes to have accomplished by June 2015.

She will also be spending fall term designing a training program for teachers to use based off her findings as well as writing a report of the information.

“[The report] is a culmination of things that we can’t really include in the policy or put in the trainings. The report will be based on the focus groups and surveys. So things that a student brought up that you cannot really incorporate in the policy or the trainings, but that the university should improve, to work on those things,” Gomez-Zeller said.

ASPSU President Eric Noll, who is also a member of the Cultural Competency Work Group, is working with Gomez-Zeller and the team to help get the policy ready by September.

“Once we start to disseminate and analyze data we receive from the focus groups and the survey, we’ll be able to start developing that actual policy that we’ll be pushing for over the next year,” Noll said.

“We formed this work group to provide more capacity to the academic affairs directors that formed the cultural competency campaign,” Noll added. “Primarily, the work group is focused on collecting surveys and conducting fieldwork around engaging the student body with the cultural competency campaign, additionally raising awareness on campus about cultural competency and the necessity for this conversation and this policy.”

More information about the cultural competency survey and the Cultural Competency Work Group can be found at To take the survey online, go to