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Cultural Impact on Independent Skills

Our school recognizes the independence and resiliency of our students, even when these skills are not those most commonly expected by school environments. Some students are very self-reliant in many situations, yet this same value can make them reluctant to ask for help or undermine confidence in an unfamiliar school setting. We value the independent and resiliency skills students have while also teaching them to recognize skills expected by schools with opportunities to practice with feedback. 

Not Yet

Students who do not naturally express their opinions and initiate help for their school and academic needs are often labeled as unmotivated and are viewed as dependent. 


Adults recognize that not all students will naturally exhibit emotionally-based independent skills and provide supports our outreach to these students to assist them in navigating school systems and opportunities. 

We Got This!

Adults in our school recognize that concepts of independence and the value of interdependence is deeply rooted in culture and that students may display these skills in very different ways.  Adults recognize and value this diversity of skills. Adults help students recognize the expectations of a school environment and provided guided practice in navigating school situations  that expect emotionally-based independent skills. 



College environments typically define and expect soft independent skills that are emotionally-based, skills that include expressing your own opinions and asserting your needs.  These are taught early and become second-nature to students whose cultural upbringing aligns with school culture.  Students from low-income and/or relationally based cultures often grow up with very different conceptions and values of independence.  In these environments, interdependence is given high value and independence sometimes requires making do with what you have and asking for more. These students may not understand that asking for help is viewed as an independent skill and communicates empowerment.  It is a misconception to label these students as lacking independent skills. In fact, the resiliency of many of these students is quite admirable viewed in another context. A more culturally responsive approach is to help students identify their own independent and interdependent skills yet also teach them those expected in a college environment.  With this information, students can begin to recognize when they need to code-shift and have the skills to do so.

Field Story

Permission Pending

"It is very hard to say I need help...people call it shy, but it is more of a humility issue.  For non-Natives it is easy for them to say 'I don't have these skills'.  Suzzak describes this as talking to figure out what you are thinking and compares this with the Indigenous tendency to think before talking.  "In the traditional way, traditional way, you think it through first, before you come for help you are expected to fully exhaust your own attempts to take care of things."


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Referencing research by Kusserow on early childhood, Covarrubias (2005) applies the concepts of “soft independence, an emotion-focused sense of independence wherein children were nudged to explore their feelings and to express their preferences” and “hard independence, survival-focused sense of self-reliance” to first generation college students (p. 384). Covarrubias (2005) explains a value imparity regarding independence; survival-based independent skills, such as self-reliance and toughness, is often ignored by universities that demonstrate a preference for independent skills that are emotional-based such as reflection and verbal expressions of your own opinion or preferences.

Jack (2016) contributes a reluctance to ask for help as a product of low-income students in regular public schools not having the opportunity to learn the hidden rules and expectations of more affluent schools and universities. It is not that students lack independent skills, they are intimidated by the environment, they view it as a potential display of weakness and do not understand the hidden rule that it would demonstrate empowerment and independence (Jack, 2016).

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