By: Bridgette Stewart, MEd, CWP, and Duke Biber, PhD

As the United States becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, and workforces focus on environments that reflect these changing demographics, it is increasingly important for health and wellness professional preparation programs in higher education to focus on multicultural competency education and training. Recent events in this country (racial implications from COVID-19, economic inequalities, etc.) present a clear need to equip faculty and students with racially and ethnically relevant education and promotion.

For example, COVID-19 has led to unprecedented losses in jobs, reduced hours and furloughed pay across the country, with a greater impact on low-income and hourly employees. The pandemic has also impacted racial and ethnic minorities to a greater extent and more severely than higher-income, Caucasian families. Furthermore, Black Lives Matter has highlighted the necessity for equal treatment, care, and opportunities for African-Americans across the United States. Racial injustice and police brutality have targeted people of color in a manner that clearly demands multicultural competency education and training.

Faculty teaching in professional preparation programs must strive to provide multiculturally competent education, such as opportunities and resources to increase cultural awareness, knowledge, and skills to succeed in a culturally diverse workplace, and the desire to promote wellness to all people, regardless of background.

In order for faculty to increase students’ multicultural competency knowledge and skills, they must go beyond a simple assignment or a basic lecture. Below are three thoughts and examples to consider when teaching multicultural competency for future health and wellness professionals.

  • It is important to tailor mental and emotional wellness strategies to include individuals of all racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, and religious backgrounds. For example, mindfulness podcasts and scripts are often developed by Caucasian individuals and tailored for a Caucasian audience. It is necessary to consider all backgrounds and cultures to help promote engagement and effectiveness of mindfulness practice.
  • When instructing undergraduate students, faculty must understand their personal biases, and how such biases can influence teaching style and student comprehension. For example, a faculty member from the midwestern United States may teach and comprehend the topic of financial wellness from a life perspective that is different from a student from Uganda.
  • Furthermore, all dimensions of wellness must be taught and understood from a social determinant’s perspective. Students from an inner-city zip code will have a different mindset than students from a rural zip code regarding family structure, finances, access to health, etc. Educators must try to understand the phenomenological experiences of all social determinants of wellness so that they can equip students to be able to promote health and wellness to all peoples.

The National Wellness Institute and its Multicultural Competency Committee provide numerous resources to assist faculty in developing programming for their students. The National Wellness Institute promotes Six Dimensions of Wellness focused on a multidimensional and holistic approach, encompassing lifestyle, mental, and spiritual well-being, and the environment of the individual (see Figure 1 below). By applying the Six-Dimensional Model, a person becomes aware of the interconnectedness of each dimension and how they contribute to healthy living in their personal environment. More information on the Six Dimension Model can be found here.

NWI’s Multicultural Competency Committee has worked tirelessly over the past several years to develop resources and education to increase inclusiveness by advancing multicultural competency within wellness best practices. One example is the Multicultural Wellness Wheel. This wheel is designed to support future wellness practitioners and related stakeholders in broadening their outlook as it relates to the concepts of wellness and well-being, and to support the recognition of the interlocking systems displayed within the wheel (see Figure 2 below).

NWI’s Multicultural Competency Committee provides numerous additional resources, including articles, videos, and the High-Level Wellness Through Multicultural Competency Certificate course. More information regarding the certificate program can be found here.

Continued and persistent effort is needed to train both students and educators to become multiculturally competent. Students who are equipped with such knowledge and skills will then be able to engage community members and train future wellness professionals to be culturally competent, as well.

Bridgette Stewart, M.Ed., CWP, is a member and Co-Chair of the Multicultural Competency Committee at the National Wellness Institute, a Board Member for the National Wellness Institute, and Coordinator for the Health and Community Wellness Program at University of West Georgia.

Duke Biber, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor for the Health and Community Wellness Program at University of West Georgia.