National Center for Cultural Competence
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Cultural Awareness

=Introduction and Rationale

Cultural awareness is a major element of cultural competence as defined by the National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC). It is the first and foundational element because without it, it is virtually impossible to acquire the attitudes, skills, and knowledge that are essential to cultural competence.

=Defining Cultural Awareness

There are varying definitions of cultural awareness. The following two are offered to underpin the principles and concepts espoused in this module. The NCCC defines “cultural awareness” as being cognizant, observant, and conscious of similarities and differences among and between cultural groups (Goode, 2001, revised 2006).

According to Winkelman (2005), awareness of cultural differences and their impact on behavior is the beginning of intercultural effectiveness. He states that “cultural self-awareness includes recognition of one’s own cultural influences upon values, beliefs, and judgments, as well as the influences derived from the professional’s work culture” (p. 9). (For more definitions, see Teaching Tools: Key Definitions.)

  • Cultural awareness can help faculty to:
    • Acknowledge how culture shapes their own perceptions
    • Be more responsive to culturally diverse students and colleagues
    • Be more sensitive and accessible as a mentor or supervisor
    • Be alert to cultural differences and similarities that will present opportunities and challenges to working in a multicultural environment
    • Influence the next generation of public health professionals to be culturally aware as a prerequisite toward achieving cultural and linguistic competence.
  • Cultural awareness includes being conscious of organizational culture and its implications for policy, practice, teaching, research, and community engagement.

Cultural awareness includes:

  • Having a firm grasp of what culture is and what it is not
  • Having insight into intracultural variation
  • Understanding how people acquire their cultures and culture’s important role in personal identities, life ways, and mental and physical health of individuals and communities;
  • Being conscious of one’s own culturally shaped values, beliefs, perceptions, and biases
  • Observing one’s reactions to people whose cultures differ from one’s own and reflecting upon these responses
  • Seeking and participating in meaningful interactions with people of differing cultural backgrounds.

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