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An introduction to

Developing Cultural Competency

Cultural Knowledge, Awareness, Sensitivity, Competence

I.  Introduction

“People of different religions and cultures live side by side in almost every part of the world, and most of us have overlapping identities which unite us with very different groups. We can love what we are, without hating whatand whowe are not. We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings.”
  ~ Kofi Annan, Former Secretary General, United Nations

This course provides an introduction to developing cultural competency. It lists characteristics of culturally competent programs and covers some of the basic aspects of cultural knowledge, awareness, sensitivity, and competence for several ethnic groups plus deaf persons (persons with a hearing disability).


Cultural Knowledge is familiarization with selected cultural characteristics, history, values, belief systems, and behaviors of the members of another ethnic group (Adams, 1995)

Cultural Awareness is developing sensitivity and understanding of another ethnic group. Awareness extends to special foods, manners of dress, language, religious preferences and observances, and differences in communication styles. As an example, in some cultures it is impolite to make eye contact, especially with someone you do not know well. Cultural Awareness also involves changes in attitudes and values and reflects an openness and flexibility in working with others of another culture.

Cultural Sensitivity is recognizing and knowing that both cultural differences as well as similarities exist, and not making value judgments of good or bad, better or worse, right or wrong (Texas Department of Health, National Maternal and Child Health Resource Center on Cultural Competency, 1997). It is important to be familiar with and sensitive to special events, activities, meaning of holidays, and other ethnic celebrations and the special foods that are served at these times.

Cultural Competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables that system, agency, or those professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations (Cross, Bazron, Dennis, and Isaacs, 1989). Cultural competence also refers to a set of academic and interpersonal skills that allow individuals to increase their understanding and appreciation of cultural differences and similarities within, among, and between groups. This requires a willingness and ability to draw on community-based values, traditions, and customs and to work with knowledgeable persons of and from the community in developing targeted interventions, communications, and other supports.

Cultural Competency is the ability to effectively operate in different cultural contexts. Cultural competency emphasizes the idea of effectively operating in different cultural contexts. Knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity do not include this concept.

For additional background information and printed recourses on cultural awareness and sensitivity, see

NextCulturally Competent Programs

Course Contents

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