Editor’s note: Due to a technical problem, our posts scheduled for the past two days were not distributed by e-mail. We apologize. This post was originally scheduled for this past Tuesday. PLG
What does Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month look like on your campus? I speculate that, if celebrated, it includes events and gatherings that highlight the outer layer of culture, such as sharing of foods, display of traditional attires, and performances from select AAPI cultures.
Certainly, an important aspect of culture includes the external, such as behaviors and artifacts. And admittedly, I enjoy attending these events and supporting the students who organize them. But search for any definition of culture in the social sciences, and it will most likely also include internal dimensions, such as salient values (e.g., see Mio et al.1). In psychology, we refer to this inclusion of the external and internal as a multidimensional conceptualization of culture, and we consider it to be superior to a unidimensional operationalization.
This AAPI Heritage Month, I encourage you to try something different in your classrooms: engage Asian cultural values. Let me first say that it is vital to keep in mind that when multicultural and cross-cultural scholars in psychology refer to these values, they are not simply stereotyping Asians and Asian Americans into certain tendencies or traits. Also, they are not arguing that these values are exclusive to Asian contexts. Instead, Asian values are referred to as such because they are being intentionally identified as cultural values that are especially emphasized in Asian contexts, compared to non-Asian ones. Put differently, social scientists rely on averages to argue that certain cultural values are more emphasized in a community compared to others, but of course individuals from the same cultural background might vary in their emphasis on the cultural values. But shared experiences matter, and to recognize that commonality through the engagement of cultural values is an important endeavor in the classroom, as long as it is recognized as a generalization based on what is typical.
I make this exhortation for deeper engagement of cultural values to Christian scholars, with the reasonable assumption that on average, such an engagement is less common compared to what is easier—the reliance on cultural activities to celebrate and honor AAPI Heritage Month. You might have even created some assignments, centered around attending and observing activities, that you have reserved for this time. But just like how the multidimensional assessment of culture yields a more valid and richer set of results in psychological research, in our teaching endeavors, intentional learning and teaching about values more commonly found among Asian communities will deepen our students’ understanding of AAPI cultures and their AAPI peers. In addition, such efforts will validate the rich, complex, and God-led narratives of our Asian and Asian American students, in a way that a narrow focus on the behavioral side of AAPI cultures might not be able to do. As such, the goal of this blog piece is to give you concrete examples of values more commonly found in Asian cultures and provide a few examples of how I (as a psychology professor) might create assignments to help my students engage these values.
So, which values might be described as Asian values? Counseling psychologist Bryan Kim and his colleagues2 empirically identified five Asian cultural values that are sufficiently self-explanatory in their names: collectivism (e.g., defining oneself in connection to others), conformity to norms (e.g., being motivated to maintain what is typical in one’s society), emotional self-control (e.g., valuing the restraining of feelings), family recognition through achievement (e.g., emphasizing academic and vocational accomplishments), and humility (e.g., valuing a humble posture). Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but it does provide a robust framework and a manageable starting point.
And now what I promised earlier—a few examples of how I might design assignments and activities to foster deeper learning of these cultural values. I am going to “stay in my lane” in proposing some initial ideas that are mostly confined to my discipline of psychology; but of course, each academic discipline might have imaginative and relevant ways to touch upon these values in a way that might look different.
Furthermore, I would argue that the engagement of Asian cultural values and how they manifest in individual and collective lives in a Christian learning environment is a fruitful exercise. This type of pedagogical approach can propel the learning from a simple descriptive endeavor to a prescriptive or evaluative one, overlaying a Christian worldview onto the cultural values of interest. That is, meaningful conversations about the compatibility of some of these values (e.g., emotional self-control) with what we are called to cherish as Christians (e.g., many references to controlling one’s anger in Proverbs) might occur. On the flipside, a critical assessment of how a cultural value might “go wrong” from a Christian perspective is possible, such as how the conforming to societal norms is not without its pitfalls, especially when we consider how fallen human beings and institutions might lead other people astray. Ultimately, these conversations about cultural values and their implications can help students appreciate the diversity of God’s people, but at the same time facilitate the recognition for a need to transform some of the ways in which these values might deleteriously impact individuals, families, institutions, and cultures.
Here a few ideas, written as instructions for students, that readers of this blog piece are welcome to use, or modify to use, in their own teaching:
- Attend and participate in one AAPI Heritage Month activity on our campus. Briefly describe the event. Next, identify and describe the cultural value(s) illustrated through this event. Do you think that the activity/event that you attended did an effective job of illustrating this cultural construct? Why or why not? What can you do to learn more about this particular cultural value?
- How might Asian cultural values help individuals in Christian communities better comprehend and respond to the current sociocultural climate impacting Asians and Asian Americans? Could cultural values hinder such engagement, at times?
- Fill out a measure of Asian cultural values and reflect on your “scores.” Compare your numbers to Asian and/or non-Asian published norms. Tell stories from your life to illustrate your socialization into those cultural values. As applicable, describe how your socialization intersected with your Christian faith development.
- Debate the pros and cons of ONE of the cultural values that we discussed in class, with the understanding that cultural values are not inherently bad or good; at the same time, these can be distorted to inflict real harm, or applied to foster human flourishing.
- Find Biblical examples of warnings against and encouragements toward the cultural values discussed in class. Address ONE of the values in depth. For example, what does the Bible say about humility? (Many things!) What about family recognition through achievement? How might Christian perspectives align or not align with what is found in the psychological sciences about the mental health correlates of the cultural value that you are reflecting on?
To repeat, these are only a few ideas from one Christian scholar about how assignments might be designed around Asian cultural values. And again, they are largely confined to the field of psychology. But I pray that Christian scholars from other disciplines reading this blog will be inspired to intentionally talk to their students about Asian cultural values during the month of May, and that they might even take the step of creating some assignments that will actively engage the minds and hearts of their students in learning more about Asian values that intersect with the key ideas of their academic discipline.
- Jeffrey Scott Mio, Lori A. Barker, Melanie M. Domenech Rodriguez, and John Gonzalez, Multicultural Psychology: Understanding Our Diverse Communities, 5th edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).
- Bryan S. K. Kim, Lisa C. Li, and Gladys F. Ng. “The Asian American Values Scale–Multidimensional: Development, Reliability, and Validity,” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 11, no. 3 (2005): 187-201.