The Graduate Student’s Role in Diversity Training

The Graduate Student’s Role in Diversity Training

Yolanda D. Perkins-Volk, M.A.

Diversity and the need to understand others outside of our own culture, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or race is at the forefront of our society today. Knowledge and understanding require time and education on multicultural issues. Diversity is also an aspect of graduate psychology training that is addressed directly in program structure. An important part of the conversation about diversity training is the impact that students have on that education itself. Multiculturalism is a key component of professional competence, and being aware of one’s own role in diversity training may inspire deeper insight of the individual and crystallization of the subject matter.

Many students have concerns related to what diversity training will consist of in graduate school. The idea that there is nothing new to be learned, that the training will be politically correct and not genuine, that there is so much to each culture it is impossible to learn completely, or the minority student may wonder how others will ever understand their perspective are all commonly held initial ideas and concerns (Tummala-Narra, 2009). Alternatively, studies have shown that White students may feel overwhelmed by multicultural training with feelings of “guilt, anxiety, and defensiveness” (Tummala-Narra, 2009, p. 326).

Multicultural competence is significant, and is important because it affects the student, the clinician, the profession, and ultimately the client. “This gap likely reflects a split between cognitive and affective dimensions of issues of race, class, sexual identity, and socioeconomic class that impedes a more productive dialogue on these issues (Tummala-Narra, 2009, p.325). The growing need for instruction on diversity underscores the importance for the graduate student to get the most from any training they experience.

Much in line with Helm’s (1990) model of racial identity movement, it is important for the student to understand who they are in terms of race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and age. Understanding these aspects of the self, support the student’s learning in terms of interpretation which is “influenced by sociocultural factors” within a “dialectical process” (Tummala-Narra, 2009, p. 328).

There are some things that the graduate student can do in an effort to prepare for diversity-focused training. Prior to starting training, the graduate student can begin to consider his or her own racial experiences, specifically, how those unique observations shape their own ongoing construction of reality (Tummala-Narra, 2009). This type of thinking may be more difficult for a White student, who likely does not necessarily consider these factors in their daily experience, and can help to start the process of conceptualizing race and its impact in life and practice.

Graduate students preparing to take part in diversity training can set the stage for a successful learning experience by thinking about their own distinction as a part of a particular culture; frame of thought can assist the student in to a consideration of areas of vulnerability as an individual and how this may transfer over into the helping relationship (Tummala-Narra, 2009).

The most important aspect to training that any graduate student should be considering is the fact that diversity training can cause the student to feel many emotions that he or she never considered before, particularly the emotions tied to life experiences and how those exposures to circumstances envelope the individual that is present now.

While some of the discussion has been focused on the White graduate student coming to terms with the idea that diversity is a part of the paint that colors life, it is important to recognize that any student of any race, ethnicity, culture or background can find that they too have not examined these aspects of life appropriately. This is said to explain that while the discussion of diversity may be new to White students, it is not completely lost on those from other diverse groups.

Diversity is a subject that requires thought and personal reflection, and those activities are deserving of honest reflection and discovery. Graduate students can engage in self-reflection through activities like journal writing, expressive arts, or even social engagement with other students where thoughts and feelings can be shared. It is important to note that university counseling centers offer support and assistance for students who desire a therapeutic approach to processing emotional and interpersonal concerns related to multiculturalism.

As stated earlier, the client is the one who stands to gain the most from a clinician that is competent in terms of multiculturalism. The training needed to become a clinician that is confident and transparent with respect to issues of diversity, can best serve clients in the profession in a manner that is holistic, frankly, and timely.

Remember, it is up to you to be who you are, and it is also important to be the clinician that the client needs; one that has considered every aspect of their being and accepting of how diversity training and self-reflection informs their existence.



Helms, J. E. (Ed.). (1990). Black and White racial identity: Theory, research, and practice.

Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Tummala-Narra, P. (2009). Teaching on diversity: The mutual influence of students and

instructors. Psychoanalytic Psychology,26(3), 322-334.


Yolanda D. Perkins-Volk, M.A.
Doctoral Student, Clinical Psychology PsyD Program
Minnesota School of Professional Psychology, Argosy University – Twin Cities

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