Southern Cayuga Conversations: Connecting at Wells’ Hallway for Cultural Humility

Elaine Meyers Special to The Citizen Jan 9, 2021 Updated Jan 10, 2021

Wells College Senior Kianna Stamps

As the Southern Cayuga Anne Frank Tree Community Read team looks at 2021, we have a clear mandate to continue conversations begun in October with our discussion of Angie Thomas’ “The Hate You Give.” Sixty participants encouraged us to discuss racism throughout the coming school year and to develop partnerships that initiate and sustain conversations. Our hope is that continued sharing of ideas will foster understanding and equity.

Our next formal meeting occurred on Nov. 7 at Wells College in Stratton Hall and provided an opportunity for Community Read members to learn about the Hallway for Cultural Humility. A Wells’ college news release (wells.edu/multicultural-center) explains the concept of “cultural humility,” which originated in the health care field as a way for practitioners to better connect with patients of diverse backgrounds. The belief is that a humble and respectful attitude toward individuals of other cultures pushes us to challenge our own inherent cultural biases. The movement stresses the need to: maintain a lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and self-critique; to have a desire to fix power imbalances where none should exist; and to forge partnerships with other individuals and groups who advocate for positive social change.

As we settled into the Hallway for Cultural Humility, community members joined two Wells students, Jazzmyne Williams and Kianna Stamps. The meeting began with an introduction from Jazzmyne, who greeted the community and told her story of selecting Wells for her undergraduate work. She delighted her listeners when she recounted her first visit to Aurora and her memory of watching Hallmark movies with her grandmother. She could not wait to show her photos of this beautiful small town and historic campus to her family when she returned home to San Antonio, Texas. Jazzmyne gave an overview of her work promoting community connections and understanding as a student summer worker at the Aurora Farmers Market, and living off campus in her own apartment. The group then did self-introductions and broke into small groups to discuss books and issues associated with racism and community culture.

The highlight of my individual group conversation was getting to know Kianna Stamps, a Wells senior from the Bronx. Kianna is a double major in political science and sociology/anthropology, and is in the process of preparing two thesis proposals for the Wells Research Institutional Review Board. One thesis is on foster care and the second is on immigration. Kianna is graduating in only three years and will be spending her holiday break working on finalizing both proposals and beginning her research. During her self-introduction, she credited the skill of her professors in knowing when to offer guidance and when to let students follow their own instincts and use personal experiences in developing their research.

During our small group discussion, Kianna was asked directly her opinion on a matter of race. She paused and began her reply with, “I am one person and can’t really speak for everyone. I can’t really speak for all Black people just as I can’t speak for all women.” At another junction, Kianna told the group members that the most important question they should be asking themselves is what each person is doing to be actively anti-racist in their community. She talked about her experiences with “code-switching” and learning to be comfortable in academic and professional settings, as well as with her personal culture of family and friends. As the small groups reconvened and shared their insights, it was clear that some of us would make plans to meet again. I told Kianna I would love to assist her in her research if community connections were needed. We exchanged emails and our adventure was underway.

In the last month, Kianna and I have discussed foster care. Her research is limited to New York state, but she encouraged me to reach out to friends and family with experience in foster care. Community partners were identified as potential avenues to finding research families for her interviews. She has referred me to academic articles contrasting private and public foster care and adoption agencies. I look forward to providing any support she needs in linking with our community. I will bring my experiences in Arizona and locally with migrant families to our conversations on immigration and look forward to creating additional connections to those who can aid her research. What I treasure about these conversations is that Kianna’s work will make a difference in many communities, and our community connections are the needed next steps for equity for all.