I’m always a fan of trying to use my own experience in order to more concretely connect with my students. As a straight, white man however, many of my students from other cultural, racial or geographic backgrounds find it surprising that I can connect and relate to them. To me, it’s quite easy. As the child of divorced parents, I found myself at the age of 12, the son of my biological father, and my Kenyan born, Hindu stepmother. Not only did I over time embrace her as the matriarch of the household, but also I learned to appreciate the cultural background, and slowly but surely, found myself easily crossing the boundaries of protestant, Anglo, Caucasian, into a world of thick, ethnically diverse, tradition saturated reality.
This is my step-culture; an unseen culture, and a culture that not many folks know about unless you actually see my “prized possessions” and visit my family homestead. It’s not some pin that one can wear on their shirt, or a sudden change in my appearance that has endowed me with this culture, but rather, it’s the adopted essence of a “new normal” family.
In our field, I’ve found this background to be ultimately, very fitting to making meaningful connections with my students. I don’t need to tell them my whole life story, but I can relate to theirs much more fluidly. I know I’m not alone in my “Step-Culture” or “adopted culture.” My wife for instance was raised by a Jewish step-father. By bringing this into a lens on our students, how do we support these invisible cultural elements? How do we make our cultural and affinity organizations as open and embracing to these individuals of a blended family culture? How can we make them not feel awkward approaching a group they may ultimately feel closer to than that culture they were genetically born into? This is a challenge I hope others have on their minds, as I think it’s something we will continue to see more of. Between an increase in multi-ethnic families (including remarriages), compiled with the higher rates of divorce seen in the past decade. Keep your eyes peeled, and remind your colleagues and students to be cognizant of this invisible diversity.