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Dr. Mary J. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi

Dr. Mary J. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi ’89

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Pacific News

Understanding cultural humility during the coronavirus pandemic

Apr 30, 2020

Dr. Mary J. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi ’89 sees the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as a call to action to apply cultural humility during a worldwide crisis.

What is cultural humility?

The vice provost of diversity engagement and community outreach at the University of San Francisco said it “begins with an understanding of equity as central to understanding privilege and power.”

“In turn, an understanding of race is central to understanding equity,” said Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, who did her undergraduate work at Pacific.

She spoke virtually on April 29 with several dozen Pacificans in a cultural conversation sponsored by the Pacific Alumni Association. Pacific Ombudsperson Hector Escalante ’01, ’18 moderated the conversation.

Increasing acts of racism and aggression against Asian/Pacific Islanders since the onset of the pandemic deeply trouble Wardell-Ghirarduzzi.

The groups Asian Americans Advancing Justice (national), the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (Los Angeles area) and Chinese for Affirmative Action (Bay Area) reported 1,100 acts of racism against Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in a recent two-week period, she said.

“We hear the terms ‘Kung Flu’ and ‘Chinese virus’ so often, and there are instances of blame being cast on Asians and Pacific Islanders for the pandemic,” she said, adding that some aggressions go well past words.

She noted a history of policies against Asians including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Cultural humility can be a powerful combatant to racism, but people have to learn about it and make it work. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi cites the work of two pioneering Northern California educators who have defined, developed and helped implement cultural humility.

Melanie Tervalon, a renowned health educator who pioneered the concept, says: “(Cultural humility) is a willingness to suspend what you know, or what you think you know, about a person/group of people based upon generalizations about their culture.”

Adds Jann Murray-Garcia, associate clinical professor at the University of California, Davis: “Cultural humility is a lifelong process of self-reflection, self-critique and a commitment to understand different points of view, and engaging humbly, authentically, and from a place of learning.”

Wardell-Ghirarduzzi said Pacific has an opportunity to promote “an equitable society and inclusive community.”

The university’s student population is 38.2% Asian/Pacific Islander in the 2019–20 school year, according to Pacific publications. Very early on in the pandemic, Interim President Maria Pallavicini issued a strong statement against racism.

Recently, Pacific’s University Diversity Committee underwent a name change to the University Committee for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi reflected on the name and mission change.

“Diversity is the reputation piece of being a diverse place; that you are a diverse group. Inclusion is an invitation to find what our part is in bringing people together,” she said. “But equity, that is where the hard work has to happen. Equity is what disrupts what we think and believe. Equity is the issue that will help your institution reach its goals.”

There are definite moments, she said, when you can see cultural humility working. “What is most powerful is when people understand their story as it relates to your story. That is where the magic happens.”

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