Creating Culturally Competent Family Scholars

Jacquelyn Wiersma-Mosley, Ph.D., Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences, School of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Arkansas
/NCFR Report, Fall 2021

Jacquelyn Wiersma-Mosley
Jacquelyn Wiersma-Mosley, Ph.D.

See all articles from this issue

In Brief

  • The Intercultural Development Inventory can be used to address racial inequity.
  • Family scholars can reflect on their own intercultural identity development using this framework to improve their own cultural competence.
  • Educators must design learning experiences and create courses to improve students’ cultural competence.


The National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) organization and membership are currently responding to their commitment to antiracist and social justice initiatives through webinars, conference plenary speakers, increased resources available on racial justice, and the call for social justice among all three flagship journals. One effective tool that could support, sustain, and strengthen these efforts is the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI; Hammer, 2008; see also Intercultural Development Inventory, 2021b), which is grounded by Bennett’s (1986) developmental model and supports an individual’s capacity to address structural racism and other forms of oppression and marginalization. The IDI framework can foster cultural competence among family scholars to recognize their own cultural identity and to interact effectively and appropriately with people from other cultures (Hammer, 2008). The IDI posits that an individual’s developmental orientation—how one constructs worldview ideas and responds to cultural differences and commonalities—can influence and structure the ability to engage and address oppression topics meaningfully (Harewood & Zemsky, 2020).

The majority of family scholars and students identify as White women (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017); 73% of Family Science programs require content on family diversity, whereas only 44% require cultural and global competency (Hamon & Smith, 2014). Family Science programs are likely producing faculty and students “who emerge with their walls of whiteness essentially unchallenged, unscathed, and often, strengthened” (Brunsma et al., 2012, p. 718). The purpose of this article is to describe how the IDI can be used as an important learner-focused approach to effectively address racial inequity among current and future Family Science scholars and programs.


Cultural Competence

Unlike other cultural competence assessments, the IDI instrument has been tested with diverse populations, has shown high reliability and construct validity, and has been found to not be influenced by possible effects of social desirability (Hammer et al., 2003). The IDI was created to measure an individual’s lens of cultural similarities and differences along a continuum from monocultural to intercultural worldviews using five stages of the Intercultural Development Continuum (Intercultural Development Inventory 2021a; Hammer, 2011), including denial (approximately 3% of people who participate in the IDI across the world), polarization (16%), minimization (65%), acceptance (15%), and adaptation (2%). The IDI assessment has begun to shift in recent years toward a more learner-focused approach, structured as a pendulum rather than linearly (Acheson & Schneider-Bean, 2019). The problem with the previous stage-like model was that recent research discovered that up to a third of participants declined in IDI scores over time (Krishnan et al., 2017) and that qualitative interviews demonstrated nonlinear opinions and emotions in developmental orientations (Garrett-Rucks, 2014). To enhance the lived experiences and to reduce the implied judgment inherent in the linear model, Acheson and Schneider-Bean (2019) mapped the IDI as a pendulum that swings between a focus on similarity (i.e., denial) and a focus on difference (i.e., polarization), with each swing less extreme until finding balance in adaptation.

Denial reflects limited experience and capability understanding and responding appropriately to cultural differences. Racial and other forms of cultural differences may appear chaotic and bewildering for these individuals, where they would rather avoid topics of race and racism and interact with members of their own group (Harewood & Zemsky, 2020). The best strategy for increasing cultural competence is to increase awareness and visibility of cultural differences.

Swinging completely to the other end of the pendulum are individuals in polarization who view others as “us vs. them” either through defense (seeing cultural differences as divisive and threatening to one’s own way) or reversal (valuing other cultural practices while denigrating one’s own culture group; feeling ashamed or embarrassed of one’s cultural group). Individuals may be fearful and angry regarding diversity initiatives, leading to backlash and retreat from policies or practices that address equity and inclusion. Individuals within the dominant culture (White or Caucasian) may create environments of “sink or swim” in which they expect nondominant members (BIPOC, or Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) to assimilate to the dominant culture. There may be an overemphasis on and judgment of racial differences, which stems from the fear of loss of power, privilege, control, or group identity (Harewood & Zemsky, 2020). The best strategy for increasing cultural competence is to find commonalities, create team-building processes to support shared needs and goals, and uncover issues of prejudice and bias.

In general, individuals within minimization value equality and want people from all racial and ethnic groups to be treated equally, but they may hide or minimize racial differences (e.g., “I don’t see color;” color-blindness) as a coping or survival mechanism (Harewood & Zemsky, 2020). For those in the dominant culture, the emphasis is on maintaining comfort and focusing more on diversity but not inclusion. For members of the nondominant culture, they may “go along to get along” for fear of being negatively labeled for speaking out. The best strategy for increasing cultural competence is to focus more on equity rather than equality. Equity recognizes systemic barriers and distributes resources on the basis of the needs of individuals and families, whereas equality distributes the same resources to all individuals and families, overlooking systemic barriers.

Individuals in acceptance recognize and appreciate patterns of cultural differences and commonality but lack the ability to adapt to cultural differences. They may “talk the talk” without integrating “walk the walk” into their personal behavior or organization practices. These individuals are curious, appreciative, and value differences, but they may struggle with taking action. The best strategy for increasing cultural competence is to develop confidence and humility, and to continue engaging in cultural experiences.

Adaptation is situated midway between the two extremes of similarity and difference, and with it, one is able to successfully bridge cultural differences and behave appropriately in contexts beyond one’s own native culture (Acheson & Schneider-Bean, 2019). Here, individuals have developed deep awareness of their own privileges, can relate to others, have a critical understanding of social issues, and have hands-on experience working for social change (Clark-Taylor, 2017). Individuals are likely to challenge systemic, institutionalized, and structural racism; however, such individuals are most prone to fatigue in continually fighting alone for social justice (Harewood & Zemsky, 2020). The best strategy for maintaining cultural competence is to manage frustration and exhaustion.

After individuals are assessed in their IDI, they are given the Intercultural Development Plan, which is created for each individual and based on the IDI score. For cultural competence development, three major goals must be addressed: (a) deep cultural-identity understanding and self-awareness, (b) learning about cultural differences, and (c) adapting behavior appropriately. Awareness is the first step in developing cultural competence because individuals must learn that they have a role to play in creating inclusive environments. However, awareness is effective only if individuals confront their implicit biases, which may prevent them from trying to understand people from different cultural groups (Hill-Zuganelli, 2019).



Cultural competence is meaningful and sustainable only when all systems within NCFR are addressed. No single course, webinar, or person can cover all aspects of cultural competence. As the leading Family Science organization, it is incumbent upon NCFR and all of its members, including researchers, educators, and practitioners, to lead this change, and in a systemic way, by addressing curricula, assessment, policies, and environments (e.g., hiring, promoting). First, all members must commit to participating in the IDI and setting goals for individual and group growth in cultural competence. Then, the organization must leverage those in acceptance and adaptation as “champions” in communication and coaching and recognize their contributions. Moreover, the IDI framework posits that individuals (and organizations) in acceptance or adaptation have the capacity to be more effective in addressing racism and oppression. Those in minimization need to be supported with training and coaching and also be recognized and rewarded for their contributions, but these individuals are often the “fence sitters” and need “champions” to engage change within the organization. Finally, the organization must listen to the concerns of those in denial or polarization while also facilitating deep critical thinking; they need opportunities to participate in trainings but cannot be rewarded for doing things “the old way” or being the loudest voices in the room when addressing racial inequity (Hare & Zemsky, 2020).

It is important for Family Science educators to create courses, assignments, and experiences, including cocurricular ones, that effectively improve students’ cultural competence. One of the best ways to foster cultural competence growth among students, especially White students, is through high-impact educational opportunities (Kuh, 2008; Wiersma-Mosley, 2019, 2020). Courses that have been successful were organized into three domains: (a) identity activities (e.g., implicit biases, reflecting on privileges and prejudices), (b) diversity education (e.g., guest speakers, textbooks, movies, and documentaries), and (c) diversity interaction (e.g., service-learning experiences) (Wiersma-Mosley, 2019, 2020). The best strategy for increasing cultural competence is to ensure that these courses are created and taught by culturally competent Family Science scholars.

In closing, the IDI framework supports learning that is both appropriate and challenging based on directed interventions, goals, and support. This customized approach could help family scholars increase cultural competency to work toward goals related to dismantling racism. In the words of Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” NCFR and its members may currently have the ability to recognize and respond to social justice, but they must also do better with their policies and practices to address systemic racism and oppression.



Acheson, K., & Schneider-Bean, S. (2019). Representing the intercultural development continuum as a pendulum: Addressing the lived experiences of intercultural competence development and maintenance. European Journal of Cross-Cultural Competence and Management, 5(1), 42–61.

Bennett, M. J. (1986). A developmental approach to training for intercultural sensitivity. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10(2), 179–196.

Brunsma, D. L., Brown, E. S., & Placier, P. (2012). Teaching race at historically White colleges and universities: Identifying and dismantling the walls of whiteness. Critical Sociology, 39(5), 717–738.

Clark-Taylor, A. (2017). Developing critical consciousness and social justice self-efficacy: Lessons from feminist community engagement student narratives. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 21(4), 81–115.

Garrett-Rucks, P. (2014). Measuring instructed language learners’ IC development: Discrepancies between assessment models by Byram and Bennett. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27, 467–486.

Hammer, M. R. (2008). The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI): An approach for assessing and building intercultural competence. In M. A. Moodian (Ed.), Contemporary leadership and intercultural competence: Understanding and utilizing cultural diversity to build successful organizations, pp. 245-258. Sage.

Hammer, M. R. (2011). Additional cross-cultural validity testing of the Intercultural Development Inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35(4), 474–487.

Hammer, M. R., Bennett, M. J., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring intercultural sensitivity: The intercultural development inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27(4), 421–443.

Hamon, R. R., & Smith, S. R. (2014). The discipline of family science and the continuing need for innovation. Family Relations, 63(3), 309–322.

Harewood, T., & Zemsky, B. (2020). The IDI and Racial Justice: Toward a Developmental Approach to Dismantling Systemic Racism. [Webinar] Intercultural Development Inventory, IDI, LLC.

Hill-Zuganelli, D. (2019). Rethinking the additive approach of cultural competence for Latinx immigrant families. NCFR Report, FF80, F1-F3, F19.

Intercultural Development Inventory. (2021a). IDI general information: The Intercultural Development Continuum.

Intercultural Development Inventory. (2021b). The roadmap to intercultural competence using the IDI.

Krishnan, L. A., Masters, C., Holgate, H., Wang, C., & Calahan, C.A. (2017). Structured study

abroad enhances intercultural competence. Teaching and Learning in Communication

Sciences and Disorders, 1(1), Article 5,

Kuh, G. D. (2003). What we’re learning about student engagement from NSSE: Benchmarks for effective educational practices. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 35(2), 24–32.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Use the data: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

Wiersma-Mosley, J. D. (2019). Developing intercultural competence and ethnic identity among agriculture and human sciences. North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Journal, 63(1a), 93–98.

Wiersma-Mosley, J. D. (2020). The impact of service learning on intercultural competence. Poster presented at the International Conference on the Development and Assessment of Intercultural Competence, Tucson, AZ.