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Education students present research on teaching students with diverse backgrounds

January 4, 2010
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Bengu Ergener-Tekinalp

Five School of Education graduate students collaborated with Assistant Professor of Counseling Bengu Ergener-Tekinalp to research and present findings on the impact of diverse backgrounds on the student-counselor relationship.

The students -- Cathy Braun, Jennifer Dobbels, Sharon Sack, Mary Daley and Tricia Galligan -- presented "Breaking Down Relationship Barriers with Students from Diverse Backgrounds" at the Iowa School Counseling Association (ISCA) conference in November.

The students are all working toward a master's degree in counseling and Daley and Galligan are also pursuing licensure in mental health counseling.

"We were thrilled to give the graduate students from Drake the chance to present at our conference," said ISCA past-president Steve Irvin.

Irvin said it was a "very positive experience" and provided the association's school counselors an opportunity for professional development.

The presentation focused on how counselors may unintentionally create relationship barriers during their interactions with students from diverse backgrounds.

The Drake students used hands-on activities, such as counselor and student role play, to help the conference attendees develop awareness of their communication styles.

In another activity, participants stood in a line and took steps forward or backward for each advantage or disadvantage they encountered during their childhoods.

Some topics addressed included:

  • The number of books in their childhood households
  • Whether or not their parents owned their home  
  • If they were able to comfortably publicly express affection for a significant other in social situations
  • If they could easily find the correct flesh color of makeup or Band-Aids

Based on the activity, participants were able to get a glimpse of the disadvantages students from diverse backgrounds face on daily basis.

The graduate students' goal was to help others develop an empathetic understanding towards students from diverse backgrounds and to learn and practice strategies to enhance the counseling relationship with those students.

The idea for the presentation developed after the students took the Counseling Diverse Populations course taught by Ergener-Tekinalp.

"As part of my course, we spent some time talking about microaggressions, unintentional racism, unintentionally hurting someone from a diverse background," Ergener-Tekinalp said.

Microagressions are brief everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to minority individuals that limit communication and hinder the ability of counselors to build rapport with clients.

"They can be manifested verbally, nonverbally, visually or behaviorally and most of the time they are not consciously or intentionally conveyed," Ergener-Tekinalp said. "They are subtle and in some cases minor, but cumulatively they hurt the individuals and the relationships."

The students plan to make their same presentation again at the Iowa Culture and Language Conference at the Polk County Convention Complex in downtown Des Moines in February.