What is Cultural Humility? The Basics

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Cultural Humility
University of Oregon working definition

Cultural humility is a practice of self-reflection on how one’s own background and the background of others, impacts teaching, learning, research, creative activity, engagement, leadership, etc.




More Definitions of Cultural Humility 

Cultural humility . Triangle with Three dimensions of cultural humility - life long learning and critical reflection; recognize and challenge power imbalances; institutional accountability

 Tai, Jessica. 2019. Three Dimensions Of Cultural Humility.

Cultural humility is:

  • A personal lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and self-critique whereby the individual not only learns about another’s culture, but one starts with an examination of her/his own beliefs and cultural identities

  • Recognition of power dynamics and imbalances, a desire to fix those power imbalances and to develop partnerships with people and groups who advocate for others

  • Institutional accountability*

*Yeager, Katherine A., and Susan Bauer-Wu. 2013. "Cultural Humility: Essential Foundation For Clinical Researchers". Applied Nursing Research 26 (4): 251-256

“Cultural humility involves an ongoing process of self-exploration and self-critique combined with a willingness to learn from others. It means entering a relationship with another person with the intention of honoring their beliefs, customs, and values. It means acknowledging differences and accepting that person for who they are."*

*"Cultural Humility Vs. Cultural Competence."  2021.  Soundscaping Source.  



Members of Pittsburgh University discuss the importance of cultural humility at the university in a short video.


Key Attributes of Cultural Humility*


Wheeler, Michael. “Cultural Competence and Cultural Humility A Literature Review for Understanding and Action.” tripartners.com, March 20, 2018.
  • Openness

  • Self-Reflection/Awareness

  • Lifelong learning

  • Institutional accountability

  • Empathy and compassion

  • To be “other oriented”

  • Acknowledging Power Imbalances and Balancing power imbalances





Adilene Rogers, a bilingual Youth Services Librarian at Sacramento Public Library, discusses how cultural humility has improved her work with Spanish-speaking youth and their families and why “cultural competence” was not enough.*

*Project READY Images Of Practice: Cultural Humility. 2019. 

“The portions we see of human beings is very small, their forms and faces, voices and words (but) beyond these, like an immense dark continent, lies all that has made them.” Freya Star

Dr. Milton Bennett notes, of the iceberg model below, that “it is important to realize that the iceberg is a starting point and that once our audiences have grasped the concept of culture, we must emphasize the fact that the iceberg is just one of the possible metaphors (including the onion, tree, atom) and that most likely, there is no perfect model that encompasses all aspects of culture."


Cultural Iceberg using a glacier/icebergy to show that 10% of what we see is surface culture and 90% is  what we don't see which is deep culture.

*Bennett, Milton J. The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, Summary. Intercultural Development Research Institute, Revised 2014.

Cultural Humility: People, Principles and Practices

This 30-minute documentary by San Francisco State Professor Vivian Chávez, that mixes poetry with music, interviews, archival footage, images of community, nature and dance to explain what "Cultural Humility" is and why we need it. 

Part i: Introduction 


Full Documentary


What Cultural Humility is Not

Cynthia L. Foronda explains that to understand what cultural humility is, one can look at what it is not: “.... prejudice, oppression, intolerance, discrimination, stereotyping, exclusion, stigma, inequity, marginalization, misconceptions, labeling, mistrust, hostility, misunderstandings, cultural imposition, judgmental, undermining, and bullying....”*

* Foronda, Cynthia, Diana-Lyn Baptiste, Maren M. Reinholdt, and Kevin Ousman. 2015. "Cultural Humility". Journal Of Transcultural Nursing 27 (3): 210-217. doi:10.1177/1043659615592677.