Minimization. The key to resolving the polarization of
defense is to find the similarity between the poles—in other
words, to minimize the differences. This is accomplished by
looking at two groups in terms of physical or psychological
similarity. For instance, it is certainly true that people from all
cultures typically have two arms and share the need to eat. In
psychological terms, we probably can observe both introverts
and extroverts in all cultures. Yet another way to minimize
difference is to assume that a single principle, such as that of a
religious, political, or economic ideology, applies to people of
all cultures (whether they know it or not). By focusing on
such real or assumed similarities, strangers become more
familiar and less threatening.
Students who move from defense and settle into minimization may Acceptance is the minimum goal to
feel that they have arrived at an enlightened position. They are which intercultural programming
likely to label any discussion of cultural difference as stereotyping should aspire.
or exotification. Because they think
intercultural understanding is
based primarily on similarity, these students tend to overestimate their sensitivity to people who are, in fact, quite
different from them. At this position, people of the dominant group underestimate their racial and cultural
privilege—their exaggerated assumption of similarity leads
them to also exaggerate equality of opportunity.
Student affairs officers should be careful in enlisting the aid
of students in the minimization position for intercultural
programming. They are capable of helping people deal with a
defense mode, but without further development themselves,
they are not very good at facilitating movement to more
ethnorelative positions. Also, people of non-dominant groups
may react negatively to the sometimes righteous attestations
Acceptance. The movement to acceptance is accomplished
by reconciling unity (similarity) and diversity (difference).
Cultural difference becomes important again, this time as
curiosity rather than a threat. In accepting difference, individuals acknowledge that people of other cultures, while equal
to themselves, are organizing their experience of reality differently—according to the different assumptions of their culture.
The recognition that people are equally complex, but
different, is the strongest antidote to bigotry. Bigotry is
reduced, not as a case of anti-racism, but as a manifestation of
extending the boundary of human similarity and difference to
include the strangers.
Acceptance is the minimum goal to which intercultural
programming should aspire. However, to accomplish this goal,
programming needs to be sequenced developmentally.
Unfortunately, this is seldom the case. More common is
programming that repeatedly addresses denial by exhibiting
cultural diversity (Mexico night) or that repeatedly counteracts defense by invoking the golden rule in our treatment of
others. While these kinds of programs do need to be
presented to each new wave of students, they need to be
followed by programming that directly addresses how to
understand one’s own and other cultures and how to adapt to
Adaptation. When people are able to experience events
from another cultural perspective, even to a small degree, they
are ready for adaptation. Everyone involved in a cross-cultural
interaction tries to adapt as much as possible to everyone else
in the interaction, drawing on an expanded repertoire of
behavior and realizing that individuals can behave differently
in varied contexts while remaining authentically themselves.
Successful mutual adaptation yields virtual third cultures—
new contexts that emerge intentionally from particular
cross-cultural interactions. The value of cultural diversity for
education (or for anything else) depends on the creation of
these third-culture contexts. There is no intrinsic value in the
existence of cultural difference on campus—the value comes
from diverse people generating new behavior and ideas as they
try to adapt to each other.
Integration. As people become better and better at adaptation, they may no longer view their identities as rooted in a
single culture: They become “culturally marginal.” The
struggle is to integrate an easy shifting of cultural perspective
with a stable identity. This integration is accomplished
through “constructive marginality,” where identity is clearly
experienced as a process of construction, not as a trait.
Make Your Campus a Model
Any of the more ethnorelative positions—acceptance, adaptation, or integration—are valuable assets for educational
institutions. When senior student affairs officers are operating
from these positions, they are more likely to recognize or
design programming that really contributes to the development of intercultural sensitivity and competence. As students
are brought into these positions, our campuses will be closer
to becoming exemplary models of multicultural living and
Milton J. Bennett is executive director of the Intercultural
Development Research Institute in Hillsboro, Ore., and Milano,
Italy ( www.idrinstitute.org). He is also a founding director of
The Intercultural Communication Institute in Portland, Ore.,
( www.intercultural.org), the originator of the Developmental Model
of Intercultural Sensitivity, and a co-creator of the Intercultural