Promoting multicultural personality development: a strengths-based, positive psychology worldview for schools.
Integral to any successful Strengths-Based School Counseling (SBSC; Galassi & Akos, 2007) model is the infusion of multiculturalism throughout every component of the model. An SBSC model that does not prepare students for interacting in, and adapting to, an increasingly culturally diverse environment is incomplete. Clearly, an important responsibility of school counselors is to facilitate students' (a) understanding of themselves, their own worldviews, and concomitant cultural biases; (b) knowledge of a multicultural history and of culturally diverse groups that they will likely encounter; and (c) skill development regarding interacting with culturally diverse individuals in new environments (Galassi & Akos; Ponterotto, Utsey, & Pedersen, 2006).
As the United States becomes more culturally diverse, multicultural strengths development will grow increasingly important in promoting academic performance, career success and satisfaction, and socio-emotional health (Galassi & Akos, 2007; Ponterotto et al., 2006). The construct that we have chosen to focus on in this article that addresses multicultural competence and effectiveness is the "multicultural personality" (MP). Although the MP construct is relatively new to the counseling literature, it is a theoretically robust and empirically supported construct that warrants the attention of school counselors and administrators.
This article is organized along four sections. First, we briefly review the ASCA National Model[R] and note its position on multicultural development. Second, consistent with Galassi and Akos's (2007) perspective, we highlight the salience of multicultural competence to the SBSC framework and review current demographic trends in the United States. Third, we introduce the construct of the MP and provide a succinct review of research in the area. Fourth, we outline how MP development can be integrated into the SBSC framework.
LOCATING A MULTICULTURAL STRENGTHS-BASED PERSPECTIVE IN THE ASCA NATIONAL MODEL
A close reading of the ASCA National Model (American School Counselor Association, 2005) reveals only occasional mention of issues related to cultural diversity. For example, in the report's introduction, we find the following statement: "Today, in a world enriched by diversity and technology, school counselors' chief mission is still supporting the academic achievement of all students so they are prepared for the ever-changing world of the 21st century" (ASCA, p. 8).
Other sections of the ASCA National Model allude to the importance of multicultural competence but fail to note specifics in terms of the school counselors' roles in promoting multicultural competence. Though the ASCA National Model falls short in highlighting the promotion of multicultural development in students, the SBSC framework presented by Galassi and Akos (2007) situates multicultural competence as an essential component of school counseling. In SBSC, Galassi and Akos infuse issues of multicultural development, multicultural competence, and racial/ethnic identity development into virtually all phases of the school counselor's role. The overall purpose of the present article is to build upon Galassi and Akos's multicultural-centered SBSC framework by demonstrating how the evidence-based construct of the MP can be integrated across the six guiding principles of SBSC.
A MULTICULTURAL SOCIETY AND GLOBAL COMMUNITY
Although school counselors are generally aware that the demographic profile of the United States is changing rapidly, it is important to examine precise projections of population growth. U.S. Census Bureau (2004) population projections estimate that in the year 2010, the White, Caucasian population of the United States will represent roughly 64% of the total U.S. population. Our collective racial minority groups--meaning African Americans, Asian Americans, American Indians, Alaska and Hawaii natives, other Pacific islanders, Hispanics (of any race), and multiracial people--will represent roughly 36% of the population.
However, from 2010 to 2050 the projected population growth rate for our White population will be only 5%, while the comparable growth rates for racial minority groups are as follows: Blacks, 58%; Hispanics (of any race), 154%; Asian Americans, 180%; and American Indian, Alaska native, other Pacific islanders, and biracial/multiracial Americans, 186%. As a result, by the year 2050, the White population of the United States will be a numerical minority (at 49%). The U.S. Census Bureau (2004) projections provide convincing evidence that our current students will be graduating into an increasingly culturally diverse nation.
While the United States grows increasingly diverse along cultural and linguistic lines, the world itself is becoming more globally interconnected. Our students today will soon be interacting not only with culturally diverse national citizens, but also with individuals from all over the world. The growth of the Internet along with access to affordable travel worldwide will bring individuals from diverse nations increasingly in contact with one another. Therefore, our school counseling programs must not only help prepare students for domestic cultural diversity, but also international cultural differences.
Some important questions for school counselors to consider are the following: (a) What are we doing in our predominantly Caucasian schools to expose students to the culturally diverse people, worldviews, and practices they will encounter as they complete K-12 schools and enter the world of work or universities here and abroad? (b) What are we doing in our predominantly "minority" schools to prepare students for a culturally diverse world where multiple values systems are continuously interacting? And, (c) what are we doing in our culturally integrated schools to ensure meaningful interaction between culturally diverse students so that respect and knowledge of diverse worldviews are garnered in preparation for life beyond secondary school?
WHAT IS THE MULTICULTURAL PERSONALITY?
The construct of the multicultural personality can be traced to the work of Ramirez (1991), who focused on providing counseling to culturally diverse people. His model of counseling is aimed at helping recent immigrant and other culturally diverse clients develop a multicultural personality, which he defined as a "synthesis and amalgamation of the resources learned from different peoples and cultures to create multicultural coping styles, thinking styles, perceptions of the world (world views) and multicultural identities" (Ramirez, 1999, p. 26). One's MP is enhanced through seeking interaction with diverse individuals and new cultural environments, taking on leadership roles in culturally diverse contexts that foster creative problem-solving, and being proactive in terms of social justice for oppressed groups (Ramirez, 1999).
Subsequently, another model of the MP appeared in Europe and focused on the disciplines of personnel and vocational psychology. Van der Zee and Van Oudenhoven (2000, 2001) conceptualized the MP as a predictor of expatriate worker adjustment in international contexts. These authors operationalized the multicultural personality in terms of "multicultural effectiveness," which they defined as "success in the fields of professional effectiveness, personal adjustment and intercultural interactions" (Van der Zee & Van Oudenhoven, 2000, p. 293).
More specifically, Van der Zee and Van Oudenhoven (2001) identified five factors in the expatriate MP model: cultural empathy, which refers to skill in empathizing with the thoughts and feelings of those who are culturally different from oneself; open-mindedness, which reflects an open and unprejudiced attitude toward cultural differences; emotional stability, which refers to stable mental health and a particular ability to stay calm under stressful and/or unfamiliar situations; social initiative, which involves embracing and initiating cultural interactions in a wide variety of contexts; and flexibility, which involves cognitive resiliency that promotes seeing new cultural situations as a positive challenge rather than as a stress marker.
Perhaps the most recent and comprehensive conceptualization of an MP is that developed by Ponterotto et al. (2006), which is anchored in a counseling and positive psychology framework. These authors reviewed and integrated a broad body of theory and research in social psychology, developmental psychology, counseling and clinical psychology, personnel psychology, feminist psychology, and African-centered psychology to arrive at a model of the multicultural personality that is broader than that proposed by Ramirez (1999) or Van der Zee and Van Oudenhoven (2000, 2001). The Ponterotto et al. model expands the focus of multicultural personality development beyond expatriates and clients, to average American adolescents and adults adapting to school, work, and life in an increasingly culturally diverse context.
Included in the Ponterotto et al. (2006) definition of the MP are factors such as high levels of racial and ethnic identity development, tolerance for and appreciation of culturally diverse people, a spiritual essence and sense of connectedness to others, a self-reflective and cognitively flexible stance in social interactions, initiative in broaching contact with culturally diverse individuals, and activism, demonstrated in a willingness to speak out against social injustice in its varied forms (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia). Readers will note that Galassi and Akos's (2007) descriptions of multicultural development, multicultural competence, and ethnic identity development are subsumed within this broader model of MP.
The MP is seen as a strengths-based cluster of personality dispositions or traits that can be subsumed under broader models of personality (such as McCrae & Costa's  five-factor theory of personality), and that is hypothesized to predict cultural adjustment and quality of life outcomes in culturally heterogeneous societies such as the United States (Ponterotto et al., 2006). The concept of multicultural competence and effectiveness in interacting with culturally diverse others is not new to the counseling and teaching professions. Since Sue et al.'s (1982) landmark position paper on cross-cultural counseling competencies, theory and research on multicultural competencies for counselors and teachers has blossomed. There is compelling evidence that the multicultural training and competence of counselors and K-12 teachers has an impact on the quality of services provided to culturally diverse clients and students (Pope-Davis, Coleman, Liu, & Toporek, 2003). However, the MP is not limited to professionals in the helping and education professions, but is concerned with preparing all students, regardless of career pursuits, for successful life in an increasingly culturally diverse U.S. society and globally interconnected world.
RESEARCH SUPPORT FOR THE MULTICULTURAL PERSONALITY
Although the multicultural personality represents a relatively new construct for the profession of counseling, it has accumulated an impressive array of empirical support linking higher levels of MP to important academic, social, and career variables. At present, the most psychometrically robust measure of the MP is the 91-item, five-factor Multicultural Personality Questionnaire (MPQ) designed in Europe (Van der Zee & Van Oudenhoven, 2000, 2001) and recently adapted for use in U.S. adolescent and adult samples (Ponterotto et al., 2007). In a recent integrative review of research incorporating the MPQ, Ponterotto (2008) identified 15 empirical studies examining correlates of MPQ factor scores in high school, college, and adult samples located in the United States, Europe, and Asia. The collective findings indicated that various MPQ factors predicted significant variance in a host of criterion variables salient to the work of counselors in high schools, colleges, corporations, and the community at large.
Specifically, using one-time sampling and longitudinal designs, and focusing on samples of university students, MPQ factor scores were correlated in theoretically predicted ways with perceived peer support, involvement in multicultural activities, involvement in extracurricular activities, openness to careers involving an international focus, academic achievement, subjective well-being, physical health, mental health, ability to work successfully on culturally diverse (business-oriented) student teams, and the ability to frame potentially stressful intercultural scenarios as a positive, safe challenge rather than as a threatening situation.
Of more direct relevance to school counselors is MPQ research on international high school students in Taipei (66% of whom were U.S. students studying abroad) that found MPQ factor scores correlated in positive directions with psychological well-being, life satisfaction, physical health, extent of extracurricular activities, and perceived support from both peers and adult mentors. Impressively, in both student and adult worker samples, and using hierarchical modeling procedures, a number of these studies found that MPQ factors predicted variance in criterion variables above and beyond the variance that was predicted by general personality traits, particularly as emanating from the five-factor model (McCrae & Costa, 1999).
INTEGRATING MULTICULTURAL PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT ACROSS THE SIX GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF STRENGTHS-BASED SCHOOL COUNSELING
In this section we propose culturally based interventions that can be initiated across the various guiding principles of Strengths-Based School Counseling (Galassi & Akos, 2007). Many of the ideas presented in the remainder of this article stem from successful initiatives of the Scarsdale (Westchester, NY) school district where two of the present authors are employed and where the third worked as a multicultural consultant for a multiyear period.
We see school counselors as ideally situated to lead strengths-based multicultural development initiatives given their academic preparation and their multifunction role in the school district. With regard to academic preparation, school counselors are trained in human development, assessment and testing, conflict resolution, consultation, multicultural counseling, research design and program evaluation, group counseling, and career assessment and counseling (Galassi & Akos, 2007; Ponterotto et al., 2006). Furthermore, in many districts, school counselors are mobile and embedded across various critical school functions. For example, in a typical day, school counselors may be visiting a class, running psycho-educational groups, counseling individual students, consulting with an assistant principal and school psychologist, consulting with community referrals (e.g., psychiatrist), and meeting parents. Thus school counselors have deep insight into the school and community culture and a broad view of students' learning context; they are ideally equipped to lead strengths-based initiatives.
Our definition of "strength" parallels that presented by Smith (2006), who saw strength as a personal characteristic that helps a person cope and adapt effectively to life situations. Strengths facilitate life fulfillment for the individual as well as for those around the individual. Importantly, Smith noted that "strengths are not fixed personality traits; instead, they develop from a dynamic, contextual process rooted deeply in one's culture" (p. 25).
Promote Context-Based Development for All Students
Students develop academically and emotionally within the context of their interactive environments (Park-Taylor, Walsh, & Ventura, 2007). Not surprisingly, students may need to develop and rely on different strengths given their multiple environments. For example, in school, one set of interpersonal behaviors may be rewarded and encouraged (e.g., cooperativeness and participation); while walking home from school through a tough neighborhood another set of behaviors may be well served (awareness of surroundings, focus, and self-confidence); and when arriving home still another set of interpersonal skills will be needed (e.g., deference to elders and leadership relative to younger siblings).
From a multicultural perspective, school counselors need to understand the diverse worldviews and value systems that impact the students' contexts for learning and interpersonal interaction both in school and at home. For example, while individual expression and assertiveness may be valued and promoted in high school, such behaviors in a traditional collectivist-culture-oriented family could be interpreted as rude and selfish. Another example may involve the family context for learning and the support of the learner. Many school counselors trained in the United States give primacy to involving the students' parents in discussions on academic and career matters, whereas in many of our recent immigrant (e.g., Latino and Asian) and indigenous (Native American) families it may be critical to involve grandparents, godparents, older siblings, uncles and aunts, and perhaps cousins in meetings with the school counselor. In fact, to simply invite a student's mother and father for such a meeting could be insulting in many of the cultures (in low acculturation contexts) now represented in our school system.
The multicultural counseling literature is replete (see Ponterotto et al., 2006) with such examples of worldview clashes, and only a few were presented here. Multicultural personality development is enhanced when multiple worldviews are integrated into the life of the school. Suffice it to say that if school counselors are to promote context-based development of all students, they must become quasi-expert in the worldviews represented by their diverse students and their families (Colombo, 2005).
Specific school counselor activities that promote worldview learning in students and staff include serving as multicultural consultants to teachers as they develop their curricula; conducting multicultural awareness workshops for teachers, staff, and students; serving as the liaison to the cultural communities within the school district; providing classroom guidance that integrates diversity as a topic of regular discussion; sponsoring student extracurricular groups that focus on diversity, international perspectives, and social justice; and modeling multicultural development through their own advocacy efforts and continuing education on topics of multiculturalism.
Promote Individual Student Strengths
What particular strengths appear to predict adjustment and life satisfaction in culturally diverse environments? While many of the positive psychology and strengths-based constructs reviewed by the various authors of this special issue of Professional School Counseling--for example, hope, optimism, self-efficacy, wisdom, emotional intelligence, and perseverance--may transcend cultural contexts (though see Constantine & Sue, 2006, and Smith, 2006, for exceptions), there is a cluster of strengths that are particularly salient for our youth today as they develop and move out into an increasingly culturally diverse and globally interconnected society. These strengths are extracted directly from the models and research on multicultural personality discussed earlier (Ponterotto, 2008; Ponterotto et al., 2006; Ramirez, 1999; Van der Zee & Van Oudenhoven, 2000, 2001). Among these individual strengths are cultural empathy, open-mindedness, emotional stability, social initiative, flexibility (all defined earlier), critical thinking skills, higher states of racial and ethnic identity development, humor, expanded gender role networks, bilingualism, self-reflection and introspection, social activism, and a sense of spirituality or the experiencing of a connectedness among all of life's forces.
Promoting multicultural personality strengths in our students (and teachers) requires a developmental and multifaceted approach. Ponterotto et al. (2006) have outlined multicultural programs and exercises appropriate at the elementary, high school, college, and community levels. Furthermore, Galassi and Akos (2007) reviewed exemplar programs and initiatives aimed at promoting general and culture-specific strengths-based competence. Skills are developed through the curriculum, through in- and after-school programs, and are role-modeled by the school staff. School counselor activities that enhance individual multicultural strength development include integrating discussions of diversity, equity, and multicultural understanding in both personal and group counseling sessions. Additionally, many of the school counselor activities recommended for context-based development will lead to individual multicultural strength development of students.
Promote Strengths-Enhancing Environments
Obviously, promoting multicultural personality development requires establishing a haven in the school and community that gives primacy and value to culturally diverse perspectives. Thus school counseling programs at all levels can access inherent strengths of the diverse cultures represented in the school, in the school community, and/or in the nation or world at large. For example, many schools include students who hail from both individualistic and collectivistic worldviews. However, most schools today still promote individualistic strengths over collectivist strengths (Ponterotto et al., 2006). Strategies for enhancing collectivist strengths could entail more cooperative learning (Allport's  contact hypothesis), ancestry rituals, oral history traditions, and accessing community healers and spiritual leaders to partner with the school (e.g., shamans, clergy, rabbis, local curanderos or espiritistas). As emphasized by Galassi and Akos (2007) and Ponterotto et al., bicultural and multicultural skills development is important for all students, not just those representing racial/ethnic minority cultures.
Critical to a culturally integrated strengths-enhancing environment is visible diversity among staff and faculty and a variety of intra- and extracurricular activities centered on diversity and cross-cultural dialogue. Sample initiatives could include cultural exchange programs between faculty and students from different school districts, states, or even countries; promoting multicultural service initiatives (e.g., in local minority or international sojourner communities); providing ongoing multicultural programming for students and continuing education for faculty, staff, and administrators; and anchoring the school in the cultures represented in the community.
A multicultural strengths-enhancing environment will model mullticultural sensitivity and commitment in both a top-down and bottom-up flow. That is, the school superintendent, principals, assistant principals, and department chairs must model multicultural awareness and competence. This sends a powerful message to the entire school district and surrounding community that multiculturalism is important to our day-to-day learning and living environment. Furthermore, new employees, whether they be teachers, coaches, other professional staff (e.g., counselors, psychologists, social workers), or support staff (e.g., secretaries, food service, maintenance workers), must be expected to continually address their own multicultural development. In this way the school district represents a holistic, inclusive, multicultural environment.
To effectively promote culturally broadened strengths-enhancing environments, school counselors must step outside their traditional role of "counselor." Galassi and Akos (2007) have emphasized the importance of school counselors providing consultation, advocacy, coordination, leadership, collaboration, and accountability in a strengths-based zeitgeist. In addition to these generally expanded strengths-enhancing roles, we recommend the specific multicultural-focused roles for counselors first advocated by Atkinson, Thompson, and Grant (1993): change agent, advisor, facilitator of indigenous support systems, and facilitator of indigenous healing systems.
Emphasize Strengths Promotion over Problem Reduction and Problem Intervention
The SBSC perspective is anchored in part in the fields of counseling, community, and positive psychology, which all emphasize primary prevention rather than remediation (more commonly associated with clinical psychology and psychiatry). Promoting etic strengths (those that transcend culture) as well as emic strengths (those unique to a particular culture) requires developmentally geared interventions that include the extended family, the larger cultural community, and the whole school. A good example of strengths promotion that can prevent serious "problem" formation is the series of articles on resiliency published in The Prevention Researcher (Vol. 10, No. 1). The Miller (2003) article in this issue focused on racial identity development in African Americans and is particularly linked to our model of multicultural personality development. With regard to research using the Multicultural Personality Questionnaire, a number of studies have found that students scoring higher on various MPQ factors interpret potentially stressful situations as a positive challenge rather than as a threatening situation; thus they appear to have greater cognitive flexibility, coping, and resilience.
Emphasize Evidence-Based Strengths-Oriented Interventions
The ASCA National Model and the SBSC framework emphasize accountability and program evaluation, so it goes without saying that multicultural-oriented program development and interventions need to hold up to empirical scrutiny. There is a growing body of research supporting the link of multicultural exposure, perspectives, and interactions to academic achievement, school connectedness, career achievement, and quality of life, particularly in adolescents and young adults (see Grieger & Toliver, 2001; Newgent, Lee, & Daniel, 2007; Ponterotto, 2008). For example, in a study of 2,327 recent high school graduates, Singley and Sedlacek (2004) found that students who scored higher on a measure of multicultural contact, appreciation, and comfort (components of the multicultural personality) also had higher GPA rankings at graduation. Thus there appears to be a strong link between multicultural personality development and academic success at the adolescent level.
Galassi and Akos (2007) reviewed the limited available evidence-based multicultural development programs. These authors noted the need for expanded research in this area. We encourage school counselors to conduct both quantitative and qualitative research on multicultural personality development. For example, quantitative studies could include outcome surveys of new and continuing programs designed to foster MP development. Furthermore, there is a need for experimental design studies that compare the effectiveness of various multicultural programs. Examples of needed qualitative research include case studies and participant-observation investigations of identified model multicultural intervention programs and environments, as well as individual and focus group interview studies of participants, facilitators, and "witnesses" (e.g., teachers, extended family).
Emphasize Promotion-Oriented Developmental Advocacy at the School Level
A central component of the multicultural personality is the promotion of social justice on both a personal and a systemic level. Strengths-Based School Counseling is concerned with assuring access, equity, and justice for all of its students. With regard to multicultural personality development, such an advocacy approach entails educating students, teachers, and staff about overt and covert sexism, racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, and so forth. Issues of unearned privilege and internalized racism must be explored, discussed, and processed school-wide.
Additionally, school counselors can advocate for increased multicultural programming at the school. They can lobby to ensure culturally diverse applicant pools for staff and faculty positions, and they can serve on faculty search committees to ensure that multicultural perspectives and competence are considered when interviewing applicants and offering positions at the school.
Although Galassi and Akos's (2007) SBSC framework focuses on school-based advocacy, we invite readers to consider the importance of expanding advocacy to the community and national levels. Schools represent a microcosm of the community culture, and school-based advocacy efforts may fall short if the advocacy is not extended into the larger community. Can a school be a haven of multicultural infusion and integration if the surrounding community espouses a single cultural worldview? It appears to us that multicultural personality development within the school needs to be linked and coordinated with the broader school district and the surrounding community. School counselors are in the ideal position to lead such advocacy efforts given their influential stature and broad reach in the community.
This article has raised important considerations for school counselors in the 21st century. First, we have expanded on Galassi and Akos's (2007) multicultural SBSC perspective by highlighting the relevance of theory and research on multicultural personality development to the practice of school counselors. The MP is anchored in diverse specialties within psychology, and early research on the construct is promising regarding its correlation with academic achievement, comfort with diverse students and others, career development, and personal-social adjustment. However, most of the research on the construct has focused on adolescents and adults, and we invite school counselors to join with us in examining the construct more closely with younger age cohorts. Second, we have provided a brief sketch of how culturally diverse perspectives, generally, and multicultural personality development, specifically, can relate to the six SBSC guiding principles.
School counselors have and will continue to make significant contributions to the academic, career, and social-personal development of our culturally diverse student body. Few school professionals have the cadre of skills that school counselors possess, and thus we have an ethical responsibility to be at the forefront in enhancing multicultural strength development of all students, faculty, and staff. The challenges that school counselors face in a rapidly evolving multicultural world society are great. We must continuously examine our own levels of MP development, engage in ongoing multicultural education, and commit to sharing our multicultural skills and knowledge with the school community. Despite these challenges, our work in the coming decades will be increasingly interesting and rewarding.
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Joseph G. Ponterotto, Ph.D., is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University, New York, and is coordinator of the school counseling and mental health counseling programs. E-mail: JPonterott@aol.com
David E. Mendelowitz is a school counselor at Scarsdale High School, Westchester, NY, and an adjunct professor at Fordham University's Graduate School of Education.
Ernest A. Collabolletta is a school psychologist at Scarsdale High School, Westchester.
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|Author:||Ponterotto, Joseph G.; Mendelowitz, David E.; Collabolletta, Ernest A.|
|Publication:||Professional School Counseling|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2008|
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