• communication style (linear vs. circular or emotionally
restrained vs. expressive);
• cognitive style (inductive vs. deductive reasoning or
strategic vs. tactical planning); and
• cultural values (the importance of hierarchically-defined
ascribed roles vs. egalitarian-defined achieved roles).
In designing such programming, student affairs officers
need to resist the call for information about specific cultures,
such as a whole program on Peruvian culture. While such
programming looks cultural, it usually does not improve
intercultural relations. It helps to remember that intercultural
implies looking at some interface between groups, rather than
just looking at the normative behavior of the group itself.
Mutual adaptation can only occur when people are roughly
similar in both their cultural self-awareness and their sensitivity to other cultures. For that reason, intercultural
programming needs to proceed in developmental steps.
Developing Intercultural Competence
The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS)
was defined to diagnose the level of sensitivity of individuals
and groups, to target training and other programming to the
appropriate level of sensitivity, and to put training topics and
activities into an effective development sequence. The model
was developed by the author as grounded theory, based on his
observations of the intercultural experience of students, expatriates, and others over many years. The sequence, or staging,
that emerged from that observation was explained with
concepts from psychosocial constructivism. Other models of
this type, but with different theoretical bases and operational
details, are William Perry’s model of cognitive and ethical
development and William Cross’s model of ethnic identity
The DMIS has been tested in two ways. Initially, it was
used successfully to provide categories for several content
analysis studies of intercultural experience. Studies of this type
continue to use the model. In the process, a quantitative
instrument was developed to measure the model—the
Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). For the last 10
years, the IDI has been used successfully to assess levels of
intercultural sensitivity in individuals and organizations.
The model itself describes the development of an ability to
experience cultural difference. At one extreme, the most
ethnocentric, people experience their own culture as the single
reality. At the other extreme, the most ethnorelative, people
experience their own culture as one among a myriad of
possible experiences of reality, and they are adept at shifting
their perspective among different experiences. This ability
creates the potential for intercultural competence. The movement along the continuum goes through the following
“stages,” or positions. The positions are described in the
context of college campuses and social justice.
Denial. This position at the beginning of ethnocentrism
represents the inability to perceive alternatives to one’s own
cultural reality. It is difficult to recognize the essential
humanity of others who are obviously different from one’s
self, and naïve questions about the other culture may appear
disrespectful. In the extreme, power may be used to exploit
others without sensitivity to their feelings of degradation.
Ideally, college provides a rude and exhilarating awakening to
the idea that other people are experiencing the world differently
than one’s self. Programming can facilitate this discovery with
relatively non-threatening exhibitions of cultural difference in a
context of support for cultural identities.
Defense. Success in moving from denial generates a protective response. As people of other cultures become more “real,”
they also become more threatening. Negative stereotypes of
others flourish and one’s own group seems clearly superior.
People are polarized into “us and them.” Power derived from
institutional dominance or from non-dominant politicking is
used to support segregation.
On campuses, continual waves of people enter this stage
in political confrontation with one another, arguing for separate dormitories and eating facilities, separate programming,
and policies that give one group advantage over others.
Programming should stress commonality: We are all students
with a purpose and human beings with similar feelings.
Defense/Reversal. This is not the necessary next stage, but
rather an alternative to the defense position. It has traditionally been found in non-dominant groups as internalized
oppression, where the dominant group culture is valued more
highly than the non-dominant. When dominant group
members discover that their own group is the oppressor
(externalized oppression), they sometimes switch sides and
take on the cause of a non-dominant group with extreme zeal.
Internationally, this can happen when exchange students “go
native.” In both cases, the adopted group is romanticized,
while one’s own group is subjected to greater criticism.
Some of the most adamant demanders of social justice on
campus may be dominant group members in reversal. They
tend not to support programming that equalizes criticism or in
other ways describes cultural groups in neutral terms. They,
like others in defense, are polarized into us and them, but now
“them” are the good guys. This reverse polarization should not
be mistaken for even moderate intercultural sensitivity.