Coming from a background in science and coming into public health and not ever hearing ‘cultural humility’ in the sciences was very telling for me. Because culture is not something that’s emphasized, it’s not talked about in a relevant way. There have always been very clear barriers present for particular minorities in science. You can see it when you’re in the science classes. You can see it when you’re in study groups. You can see it when you’re looking at your professors. And I’m not just talking about racial minorities. I’m talking about a lot of underrepresented minorities in the sciences. Race is a factor, but gender, sexual orientation…

-Marilyn Thomas, Public Health Graduate Student at San Francisco State University

Excerpted from the documentary on Cultural Humility by Vivian Chavez

What is Cultural Humility? Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-García compare it to Cultural Competence in an article focusing on the patient-physician interaction. While Cultural Competency has an endpoint of mastery (“I studied it, so I know it.”), to be culturally humble, we must be:

  • lifelong learners
  • critical self-reflectors
  • recognizers and challengers of power-imbalances
  • holders of institutional accountability

How does the approach of “cultural humility” towards understanding the world relate to the approach of science? Are scientists lifelong learners, and is some level of competency expected? Are we given the space to be critically self-reflective, and do we overcome the potential influence of biases by implementing proper experimental controls? What about power-imbalances and institutional accountability in science? There are numerous committees related to ethics in research on campus. Who sits on these committees, and who does not?

One of the struggles that I think we face is the sense of elitism that might come with a regimented approach to accumulating evidence and presenting facts. Scientists are trained on the proper ways to accomplish these tasks, but does this make science superior to other approaches to understanding the world? How can we understand each other?

A couple books have played a powerful influence for me when understanding these questions. First, a collection of essays that were compiled, introduced, and edited by Laura Nader in a book entitled Naked Science: Anthropological Inquiry into Boundaries, Power, and Knowledge. Second, a book by Linda Tuhiwai Smith called Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Both of these works confront us with the effects of the gaze of Western science and its effect on history. Furthermore, it led me to wonder, are our ethical priorities Eurocentric? Is our research tailored to benefit certain groups? How broad are our impacts?

There are many more works to consider in this arena. This article is merely intended to motivate discussions amongst ourselves to self-reflectively investigate (“self” as a collective) what are goals are as scientists, what do we hope to accomplish with our work, and how can we consider cultural humility in our process?


Just to get a feel for who is reading this article and your thoughts, I would greatly appreciate if you could take this short survey, inspired by the quote that introduced this article:


Thank you, and good night!

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