ACES 2015 Recap IV: Keynote on Cultural Competency for Counselors

The keynote address at the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) conference was given by Lee Mun Wah, the executive director of Stirfry Seminars & Consulting. He is an award-winning Chinese American documentary filmmaker, author, poet, Asian folkteller, educator, community therapist, and master diversity trainer. For more than 25 years, he was a resource specialist and counselor in the San Francisco Unified School District. His diversity training company provides educational tools and workshops on issues pertaining to cross-cultural communication and awareness, mindful facilitation, and conflict mediation techniques.

Lee started his keynote by reflecting on a conversation that he had with an executive at Best Buy. Lee asked the executive, a person of color, what he had to leave at the door in order to join the company. The executive retorted with, “I leave the best parts of me out.” He was the vice president of diversity. This story illustrated the focus of Lee’s presentation: To encourage an open and free dialogue about cultural differences both at a micro and macro level. More importantly, talking about diversity is just the beginning.

“You can talk about diversity, but not feel it. You can define diversity, but not really relate to it,” he said.

Discussing diversity at a national level, Lee emphasized, is more important than ever. He turned to the audience and asked, “How many people believe that racism is alive and well in this country?”

Every person in the room stood up.

The remainder of Lee’s presentation was an exercise in understanding differences. Attendees were asked to find a partner in the room whom they had never met or spoken to before. After a brief introduction, they were asked to candidly tell their partners their first impressions of them. Lee encouraged them to share any assumptions that were made based on these brief meetings within the context of a safe and open conversation.

 “We are really only one question away from being connected; from learning about one another’s journey,” he said. “And that one question only comes about when we are willing to be open to hearing another truth outside our own.”

Lee emphasized how sometimes it takes saying something out loud to truly recognize truth. Exercises such as these need to be brought to a national platform. Through an open recognition of one’s truth, the important issue of our differences can be brought to the forefront.