Cultivating Cultural Competency

We welcome to our email newsletter and website a series of brief articles written by Julie Sands, a UI Master of Social Work practicum student working with The Center during the 2020-2021 academic year. We present various topics aimed at increasing our competency within various cultures, along with investigating the structural effects of the White-American culture.


National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

“Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking, and behavior” (source: ALZ). It is, however, not a normal step in the aging process. The disease is progressive—it worsens over time. Currently there is no cure, but there are treatments to help with symptoms.

The Alzheimer’s Association lists warning signs of Alzheimer's (source: Warning):

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. 
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. 
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks. 
  4. Confusion with time or place. 
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. 
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. 
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. 
  8. Decreased or poor judgment. 
  9. Withdrawal from work of social activities. 
  10. Changes in mood and personality.

Here are suggestions to help those with Alzheimer’s disease (source: Help): 

  1. Keep a daily routine. 
  2. Don’t overstimulate. 
  3. Be reassuring. 
  4. Don’t yell or argue.

If you want to learn more, the Alzheimer’s Association has a lot of information on their website. They are offering an array of free virtual programs and support groups during November, along with hosting Dementia Super Saturday on November 14. Click here for more information or to register. May we be mindful and empathetic toward those with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.

National Family Caregiver Month

Across the United States and globally, more people are caregiving for adults (source: NAC). The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP conducted a study in 2019 that shows ~1/5 Americans are providing unpaid care to an adult (source: NAC). 61% of those Americans also work (source: NAC). Caregivers may experience hard times while fulfilling that role. It is important to notice feelings of loneliness, how you are managing any medication, and how you are navigating the care system (source: Health). Click here to take an 18 question caregiver self-assessment questionnaire. If you are a caregiver, please take care of yourself—physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, etc. The NAC has several free guidebooks online to help caregivers regarding mental health, memory loss conversation, and fall prevention conversation (source: Guidebooks). The Alzheimer’s Association also offers information, some on changes to the relationship, grief and loss, etc.

Written by Julie Sands, UI Master of Social Work Practicum Student


National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

In the United States we value independence and freedom. Sometimes this and other cultural factors prevents us from involving ourselves in other people’s business—we do not want to bother or intrude. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has contained abusers and those who are abused (https://nomore.org/listening-from-home/). It is vital if we suspect domestic violence in the lives of others or ourselves, to not be silent but to take action. Reach out to the person or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (call 1-800-799-7233, chat at https://www.thehotline.org/, or text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474) for advice. Call the police if you suspect some’s life is in danger or that they are being abused. I mentioned above how our ancestors have influenced our lives; we, too, impact the lives of those around us.

Intersex Awareness Day October 26

“Intersex is an umbrella term for differences in sex traits or reproductive anatomy. Intersex people are born with these differences or develop them in childhood. There are many possible differences in genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, or chromosomes, compared to the usual two ways that human bodies develop” (https://interactadvocates.org/faq/). 

United Nations Free and Equal shares a beautiful story in a short video, of an intersex baby. The video ends with the words, “1.7% of people are born intersex” and “They are perfect just as they are” (https://www.unfe.org/intersex-awareness/). 

That last quote is illuminating. Often culture suggests what a “perfect” baby/person is or should be. This quote is strengths-based and proclaims that each person deserves respect as they are. May we self-reflect and see what prejudice thoughts we might have toward intersex individuals and/or toward others. If so, challenge those thoughts and investigate where they come from and why we hold on to them. What can be done to better understand those who we might see as different? It is important to remember that different does not mean bad.

Written by Julie Sands, UI Master of Social Work Practicum Student


Polish American Heritage Month

Polish immigrants first arrived in the early 1600s. In 1619 they staged the first strike for voting rights (source: Chicago Tribune). Many Poles clustered in the Northeast, and even close by in Chicago, Illinois, is the Polish Museum of America. Some notable Polish Americans include Stephanie Kwolek, who developed Kevlar; Ruth Handler created Barbie and co-founded Mattel; and Leo Gerstenzang invented the Q-tip (source: Mental Floss).

International Stuttering Awareness Day, October 22

Stuttering affects around 3 million people in the United States and is more common in males than females; the causes are unknown, but researchers link it to “brain activity that interfere with the production of speech” and it can be genetic (https://westutter.org/what-is-stuttering/).  
This summer the National Stuttering Association held its annual conference virtually, and their conference recordings are available and free to watch at https://westutter.org/conference2020/. Their keynote speaker was John Hendrickson, the Senior Editor of The Atlantic, who did an article about Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee for the upcoming election. Both these individuals have a stutter and Hendrickson’s interview has great insight.

This lets us consider the unwritten expectation for speech, that it should be clear and fluid. This places pressure, anxiety, fear, and embarrassment on individuals with a stutter. Let us recognize this social norm and how it impacts people, not just with a stutter, but perhaps other speech or language disorders, or someone not fluent in English. We can also be aware of how we react—verbally and non-verbally.

Written by Julie Sands, UI Master of Social Work Practicum Student


LGBT History Month

This month, lgbthistorymonth.com, each day will celebrate a LGBT icon—someone who has been/is a role model and helps build community. This month coincides with National Coming Out Day, which is October 11. This day started in 1988, one year after the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights. To hear the stories of thousands of people who are LGBTQ, visit itgetsbetter.org/stories.

Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month

As I considered what to share, I reflected upon my Whiteness as a citizen of the United States and my great-great grandparents who immigrated from Italy. Our ancestors played a role in where we are today, as have the actions of others--whether for our benefit or not. October 12 is Columbus Day this year, which is partially why October is Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month. I grew up learning of no wrongs done by Christopher Columbus and later in life learned otherwise. I think it is important to share the good and the bad of our historical figures, and living figures, to remind us they are human. This video was produced by the National Italian American Foundation and interviews Professor Emerita Carol Delaney about the truths and myths of Christopher Columbus.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 12

Millions of Indigenous people died in the Americas after the arrival of Columbus and other Europeans to this land; this is something we cannot undo. We can validate their loss and recognize America has lost millions of would-have-been contributions from these people and their cultures. White people can acknowledge the influence of Whiteness in our society, which stemmed from the culture of the European colonizers and continues to be reinforced. We can give space to allow for the voices of Indigenous people and listen to what they share. One place to hear this is at Native News and Talk, hosted by the Association on American Indian Affairs. To learn more about Indigenous Peoples’ Day, visit https://parade.com/1089776/jessicasager/what-is-indigenous-peoples-day/.

Written by Julie Sands, UI Master of Social Work Practicum Student


October is Filipino American History Month

Filipino Americans are the second largest Asian American group in the United States (http://fanhs-national.org/filam/about/). The first known Filipino arrived on the continental U.S. on October 18, 1587. The theme for this year’s month is “The History of Filipino American Activism,” highlighting those who have been involved in social justice movements.

The Filipino American National Historical Society has an online exhibit of photos from their museum as well as three short YouTube videos (no sound). 

World Teachers’ Day, October 5

You make a difference! Yes, I mean you the reader, and it is a phrase we can tell our teachers. World Teachers’ Day is supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and this year’s theme is “Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future” (https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/worldteachersday). Teachers are a huge asset and what they teach helps shape our society and culture. May we find ways to support them now and throughout the year.

World Mental Health Day, October 10

World Mental Health Day is hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the theme this year is “Move for mental health: let’s invest.” The WHO shared some saddening and staggering data, “Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. And now, billions of people around the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having a further impact on people’s mental health.”

They continue, “Yet, relatively few people around the world have access to quality mental health services. In low- and middle-income countries, more than 75% of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders receive no treatment for their condition at all” (https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/27-08-2020-world-mental-health-day-an-opportunity-to-kick-start-a-massive-scale-up-in-investment-in-mental-health).

One reason I am a social worker is because I value mental health. I am sure you have all heard the following idea. In society, if we break a bone or have a recurring pain, we go to the doctor for help. It needs to become a social norm to do that with our mind/mental health. I proudly say I regularly see a therapist and they have helped me immensely. Let us tear down stigma, prejudice, and/or discrimination built around seeing a mental health specialist. Let us do it for ourselves and for future generations. Remember…you make a difference!

Learn more: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-mental-health-day/world-mental-health-day-2020/world-mental-health-day-campaign

Written by Julie Sands, UI Master of Social Work Practicum Student


International Day of Older Persons, October 1 

October 1 was selected as the International Day of Older Persons by the United Nations General Assembly on December 14, 1990. Each year has a different theme pertaining to older persons (i.e., intergenerational societies, rights of older persons, age equality, etc.). This year’s theme is “Pandemics: How do they change how we address age & ageing?” 

Considering age and aging has always been important, but it is especially important as the older population is estimated to more than double by 2050, to over 1.5 billion (https://www.un.org/en/observances/older-persons-day).

Perhaps take time on this day to contemplate how you view aging—positively and/or negatively. What harmful ageist thought might you hold, whether toward yourself, or toward younger or older generations? Inspect any thoughts. Watch this 12-minute video featuring four Centenarians (people 100 years and older) sharing their insights, and keep an open mind. Evaluate if there is something shared, or not shared, that you might want to incorporate into your life.

Written by Julie Sands, UI Master of Social Work Practicum Student


September 28 is Ask a Stupid Question Day

Teachers often say, “there are no stupid questions,” but sometimes people do not believe that. Well, if you feel like you have any, here is a good day to ask! Ask a person or search the internet. Make sure they are reliable sources—where are they getting their information from, who created the webpage, who funds it, etc.?

This past year I asked my classmates what BIPOC meant; I had never heard it before. I felt a little insecure but trusted these individuals to be kind. I learned BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. It is not said as an acronym but is pronounced “buy pock” (“pock” like in “pocket”). I highly recommend reading the amazing information located at https://www.healthline.com/health/bipoc-meaning.

An important note regarding BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ folx: They become exhausted by people frequently asking them questions and demanding evidence/examples of the discrimination they face or for their story. Therefore, to respect their wellbeing, search the internet; there are many voices there that have already shared their stories. Stories, such as:

Happy questioning!

Written by Julie Sands, UI Master of Social Work Practicum Student


National Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15 – October 15 is set aside for Americans to celebrate individuals whose heritage is from Mexico, Spain, Central and South America, and the Caribbean Islands. Mexico and several countries from those regions celebrate their independence days during this period. Of course, all may participate in recognizing and respecting their cultures.

Have you ever heard or seen the word “Latinx” and wondered what that means? To understand the term Latinx, it is important to realize the Spanish language is based on feminine and masculine words, the former ending in -a(s) and the latter ending in -o(s). For example, the word for “house” is “casa” and the word for “cat” is “gato.” In the U.S., individuals who identify with a Latin American heritage and want to be gender neutral can use the ending -x, thus saying, “I am Latinx.”

The Iowa Department of Human Rights highlights stories of Iowa Latinx and Hispanics at https://humanrights.iowa.gov/latino-hispanic-heritage-month.

To hear new Latinx music, listen to NPR’s World Café: Hispanic Heritage Month at https://www.npr.org/sections/world-cafe/2020/09/14/912034778/hispanic-heritage-month-on-world-cafe-the-playlist.

To learn more about the origins of this month, the term Latinx, 20 famous Hispanic people, etc. check out https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/a33957025/hispanic-heritage-month/.

Written by Julie Sands, UI Master of Social Work Practicum Student


Jewish holy days this month

This past weekend Jews around the world celebrated Rosh Hashanah, which means the “head/first of the year.” It celebrates God’s creation of the earth and is the start of a ten-day observation of the Days of Awe, wherein people are encouraged to reflect and repent. This period ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which this year is on September 27.

israel-tel-aviv-blowing-the-shofar-on-rosh-hashanah.jpg
What is a shofar? The shofar, a trumpet made from a ram’s horn, is blown to remind people to “wake-up” and pay attention to their lives. Both Jews and non-Jews can consider during this time where they are and where they would like to be. I will add that it is important to be kind to one's self during introspection, realistically recognizing the strengths and limitations in our lives and in the world, while remaining hopeful.

Written by Julie Sands, UI Master of Social Work Practicum Student
This information and more is found at: https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/rosh-hashanah-history and https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/yom-kippur-history