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A reaction to Hipolito-Delgado and Lee.

In their article in this issue, Hipolito-Delgado and Lee contend that empowering students from marginalized communities is a fundamental role of school counselors and consistent with both the Education Trust's (2003) and the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA, 2004) emphasis on social justice. To help school counselors further this role, the authors make use of empowerment theory, the roots of which are found in Paulo Freire's educational theory. Hipolito-Delgado and Lee do an impressive job of integrating empowerment theory with the role of the school counselor and generating practical suggestions as to how the school counselor might begin to effectuate a process of personal empowerment for students with internalized oppression. The authors are to be congratulated on helping school counselors to understand in very real and pragmatic terms the implications of the commitment to social justice.

Empowerment through counseling, as the authors rightly point out, has been a longstanding emphasis of the profession. Equally longstanding has been the debate around how to empower clients and the emphases accorded to the different dimensions of an individual's existence--for example, intrapsychic, interpersonal, and sociopolitical. In a very convincing fashion, Hipolito-Delgado and Lee describe how school counselors can aid in a process of personal empowerment for students from marginalized communities by fostering critical consciousness, facilitating the development of a positive identity, and encouraging social action. These are designed to effectuate systemic changes in schools so they are no longer instruments of internalized oppression but rather help students to understand their victimization by sociopolitical forces and eventually take action to combat those forces. By the very nature of their existence, schools are designed to help students achieve an education--always seen in the country as a means toward achieving greater economic and political power.

Hipolito-Delgado and Lee argue that when schools are culturally monolithic and insensitive to cultural differences, they do not help students from nondominant cultural backgrounds advance in educational attainment and achievement. While the authors do not explicitly state such, one has to believe that their use of empowerment theory is ultimately designed to help students from marginalized communities succeed academically with the recognition that this may require certain structural changes that the authors imply will result from a process of personal empowerment.

Throughout the reading of this important article, we kept being reminded of current research informing us about the importance of course-taking variables in determining success in education beyond high school (see, e.g., Adelman, 1999; Trusty, 2002; Trusty & Niles, 2003). Based on the Adelman study, the Education Trust (2005) has called the high school curriculum the biggest predictor of college success. While Hippolito-Delgado and Lee make mention at the beginning of their article of how schools perpetuate oppression of students from marginalized communities because these students are less likely, among other things, to receive college preparation classes, the authors seem to lose this connection when discussing empowerment theory as it relates to professional school counseling. In writing about how school counselors can help disempowered students to build a positive identity, develop critical consciousness, and take social action, they fail to relate such laudable tasks to the promotion of educational achievement and attainment--the ultimate goal of all school counseling activity. By helping students become aware of how schools are and can be instruments of oppression and by encouraging students to participate in ethnic student groups and social action groups, school counselors may be indirectly promoting higher achievement and attainment.

When a disempowered student refrains from taking more advanced college preparation courses, what is the response of the school counselor? Does the counselor not so consciously lower standards for such a student and think, "Well, for a Latino student, he's done pretty well by getting to Algebra 2"? If such is the case, the counselor has an obligation to bring into greater awareness such subtle forms of racism that make schools instruments of continued oppression. Disempowered students can easily seduce counselors into having lower standards for them. I (the first author) am often troubled by the response of many of my Latino counselees when I ask them how they did in school and they respond, "I did fine; I didn't fail anything and got mostly Cs."

Because curriculum choice is a major factor in determining future educational attainment, and real sociopolitical empowerment is less likely for those without a higher education, it seems to me that empowerment theory for school counselors must deal with these very significant choices. In my work with adolescents of color, I have come across many who have a positive ethnic/racial self-identity, who enjoy and see the advantages of speaking another language, who like learning more about their parents' culture by visiting their native land, yet they are poor performers in school. They even like school--they enjoy seeing their friends and have few complaints about their teachers. Yet, given the choice between pre-calculus and an easy elective, the latter is often more attractive.

Professional school counselors' use of empowerment theory must help students from disenfranchised communities (sometimes in spite of the students' own resistance) avail themselves of the means (current course-taking options) to become high achievers (college and beyond). I realize that this future-oriented perspective on empowerment may be hailed as typically White. The role for the school counselor, however, is to promote higher achievement for all students, and career development is a major domain in the ASCA National Model (2005). The very nature of the job of school counselors demands that they have an eye toward the future. They help students make informed choices in the present by linking those choices to future educational consequences.

Hipolito-Delgado and Lee invite school counselors to empower marginalized students to become structural change agents--first, by understanding the racist and monocultural structures of their schools; and second, by working toward changing those structures. History has provided us with numerous examples of structural change agents with little formal education; yet, such is not the norm. School counselors will contribute greatly to the creation of future agents of change from marginalized communities by helping them to embrace academic challenge, often exacerbated by culturally insensitive schools. If Hipolito-Delgado and Lee understand the ultimate goal of a school counselor's use of empowerment theory as the promotion of higher educational achievement for students from marginalized communities, then we are in agreement. We just wish they could have made this linkage more explicit. If we are not in agreement on this point, we have a fundamental difference in understanding the role of the professional school counselor.


Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the tool box: Academic intensity, attendance patterns, and bachelor's degree attainment. Jessup, MD: U.S. Department of Education.

American School Counselor Association. (2004). The role of the professional school counselor. Retrieved February 24, 2006, from the ASCA Web site: http://www. contentid=240

American School Counselor Association. (2005). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author.

Education Trust. (2003). School counselors working for social justice. Retrieved February 4, 2006, from the National Center for Transforming School Counseling Web site: Counseling/publications.htm

Education Trust. (2005). Achievement in America. Retrieved February 4, 2006, from the National Center for Transforming School Counseling Web site: PowerPoint.htm

Trusty, J. (2002). Effects of high school course-taking and other variables on choice of science and mathematics majors. Journal of Counseling and Development, 80, 464-474.

Trusty, J., & Niles, S. G. (2003). High-school math courses and completion of the bachelor's degree. Professional School Counseling, 7, 99-107.

Daniel To Sciarra is an associate professor of counselor education at Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY. E-mail:

Melissa L. Whitson is a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York.
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Author:Whitson, Melissa L.
Publication:Professional School Counseling
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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