Dear Counseling Colleagues,
My column this month focuses on serving our multicultural and multiple-identitied clients and students, especially those who are invisibly diverse. An “invisible” person or group might be unidentifiable immediately as a member of a multiracial or multiethnic population.
Examples of this might be an individual who identifies as LGBTQ or someone with a disability that is not obvious upon first meeting. Another example of invisible diversity could be a population that doesn’t have huge numbers (comparatively) and, therefore, isn’t always “counted,” such as individuals who are Native American or Alaska Native. Inclusivity of all differences is vital to counselors, counselor educators, counselors-in-training and the communities from which clients and students come.
Counselors have a responsibility to the counseling process and the mission of the profession to understand, operationalize and conceptualize issues of diversity vis à vis their clients and students. As we embrace our identity as counselors, we also embrace a sense of justice, equality and the sterling delivery of services for all clients, all the while practicing inclusion.
At the end of October, I had the privilege of attending the Reach Higher White House Convening, held at American University in Washington, D.C., in support of First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to encourage and assist students in reaching beyond a high school education. In a day filled with inspiring speakers and panel discussions that concentrated on cultural competence and the role counselors play for underserved youth, one speaker in particular precipitated a sharp twist in my thinking. I experienced an immediate and almost visceral response to his message, and judging from the tears in the eyes and on the cheeks of many of the school counselors in the room, I was not alone. Bill Mendoza, executive director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, spoke powerfully about a population that constitutes an invisible diversity.
Little research is available on the school needs or educational achievement rates for children from Native American or Alaska Native populations. Why? Because their population numbers are not large enough to “count.” But reports of the high percentage of suicides within these communities, especially for those living on American Indian reservations, and the studies that assert that Native Americans are the racial group most likely to be killed by police, affect all school personnel, especially counselors. Violence is an uncomfortable yet all too typical part of daily life for many school counselors. These counselors play vital roles in the achievement, self-esteem, and positive attitude and outlook of all students.
To make the statement that we, as counselors, are supporters of social justice, human rights, diversity and inclusion, we must count everyone — all of the individuals from the populations that we don’t “see” or about whom we know little or nothing. Bill Mendoza brought me to tears with his heartfelt retelling of growing up as a member of the Lakota nation, and I was profoundly touched as he described the invisibility he experienced.
I appointed the ACA Presidential Advisory Group on the Roles and Opportunities for School Counselor Educators to offer as much support as possible from ACA to our school counseling community. I appointed this group long before I attended Reach Higher or met Bill Mendoza. But as I sat in the room at the White House Convening and listened to him, I knew without a doubt that one of the first issues I was going to discuss with the advisory group at our December meeting would be invisible populations in schools and how we can listen and offer hope through our work as counselors. Once that path is open to everyone, we will offer sustainability through inclusion.
As promised last month, I’d like to share the titles of two presidential featured sessions at the upcoming ACA 2017 Conference & Expo. I am very enthused about these two sessions: “Quelling the Fires of Academia: The Role of Counselors in Addressing Racial Tension and Violence on College Campuses,” presented by Courtland Lee, Nicole Pulliam and Dawn Norman; and “Silence Still Equals Death: Counseling College Students on HIV, STIs and Dating,” presented by Les Kooyman and William Hight.
Want more information? See the program link for the ACA 2017 Conference at counseling.org/conference/sanfrancisco2017/session-events-2017/education-session-tracks. Join us in San Francisco, please!