Dr. Susan Weinstein: I Am...Culturally Adept.
Dr. Susan Weinstein is no stranger to marginalization. Growing up in a low-income, single-parent, Jewish household in a completely non-Jewish neighborhood taught Weinstein at a young age how to empathize with others and to approach unfamiliar cultures and situations with confidence and humility.
“A person who is culturally adept has a desire and ability to connect with and understand people who are outside of their normal social and professional circles,” said Weinstein. “I wanted to be that person from early on, but wanting isn't enough. Through education and experience, I've watched myself change and grow over many years into someone who has a lot more understanding of the dynamics of culture, how it reveals itself in everyday practices, and how it influences our perceptions of the world.”
In her experiences as an educator, Weinstein has interacted with students of varying minority groups whom she has been able to learn from and inspire. Whether teaching Latino youth in south Chicago or African American students locally in Baton Rouge, Weinstein has been challenged to rethink her own cultural values to approach diversity with an open mind.
“Every culture is worthy of respect and deserves to be understood and represented in the classroom,” said Weinstein. “Since African-American culture is American culture, learning more about the former means I understand the general culture of my own country far better than I did before.”
These experiences have shaped Weinstein’s current methods of teaching with cultural adeptness. In choosing authors and topics for her English curriculum, she is extremely intentional and wants to challenge her students to expand upon their current viewpoints of American culture.
“The examples I offer students in discussion come from my own background and my own fascinations, so there's always a healthy dose of hip-hop, references to contemporary artists from a range of backgrounds, and examples from popular culture,” said Weinstein. “To me, true education is about continually expanding the people and places where we can circulate confidently. Closing ourselves off to understanding other cultures narrows our worlds. Understanding more is better.”
Weinstein challenges the LSU population to take a step outside of their comfort zone and to allow themselves to interact and be molded by unfamiliar cultures.
“Take classes that you know will challenge your existing knowledge and experiences. Dismantle your defensiveness around being wrong or being in spaces you don't understand,” said Weinstein. “Befriend people who seem to be more understanding of certain topics than you and treasure all that they might teach you.”
Weinstein takes on this challenge of cultural adeptness daily, as she remains open to learning about and from people whose life experiences have been different than her own.