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Moving Toward Cultural Safety in Communication

Culture: how we think, what we do, and how we interact with the world. It impacts how we dress, how we talk, what we eat, where we live...the list goes on. Our cultural identities impact all aspects of our lives.

What is Culturally Safety?

The term cultural safety came out of work in New Zealand in the 1980s from efforts to better meet the health needs of the Maori people.

Today, we see these concepts have expanded to meet the needs of community members in a variety of settings. For example, the Culturally Connected project based in British Columbia, Canada, uses this foundation and focuses on the intersection of cultural safety with health literacy practices, defining a culturally safe practice as one that “involves working to create a safe space that is sensitive and responsive to a client’s social, political, linguistic, economic, and spiritual realities.”

So what does that mean exactly? At its core, the idea of cultural safety goes well beyond just being a well-intentioned person who is curious about other cultures. It’s about making a commitment in one's work to a number of principles that focus on creating equitable spaces. Here are just a few aspects to consider.

Going Beyond Cultural Competency

Moving toward cultural humility, and ultimately cultural safety, is a life-long effort. It means creating spaces that are legitimately welcoming and inclusive for all people, not just people that we share cultural identities with (especially if we are someone who benefits from a dominant culture’s privileges). It means being highly self-reflective and recognizing that you may make mistakes along the way, but that growth is worth any discomfort that comes with not always knowing the "right" answer.

Considering Systems, Not Just People

Organizations must look at the big picture when creating systems that work for all people. It can’t just be assigning one staff person to focus on cultural safety, checking off a box, or a one-time training with no follow through. It takes a bigger commitment to prioritize spaces that are welcoming and inclusive. It must be a lens that is built into the work.

Reflecting on Power and Inequity

It’s critical to be honest about historical practices such as racism and misogyny that have led to distrust in many systems and institutions. Without that acknowledgement, systems are doomed to recreate the same power differentials of the past.

In Practice: What Does This Mean in Communication?

Here are just a few examples that ways we see this come up in work with organizations, especially the reinforcement of power differentials and elements of white supremacy culture:

People are often taught to write a certain way in academic and professional settings that focuses on the technical aspects of writing — and not the complexity of power differentials, equity, and transformation of the status quo.

We are committed to having these hard conversations around communication in the sector — and we hope you can join us!



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