The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Three Ways HR Can Promote Cultural Appreciation Over Appropriation

Cinco de Mayo is a frequently misunderstood holiday. Many Americans are quick to join in on the celebrations, but few are aware of the origin of the holiday. And while grabbing a traditional Mexican meal or a margarita today is hardly cultural appropriation, the slope can be a slippery one.

Cultural appropriation — exploiting or “cherry picking” certain aspects of a culture while ignoring their cultural significance — can be hurtful and offensive. A non-Mexican employee wearing a sombrero or poncho on Cinco de Mayo is an example of appropriation. On the other hand, using Cinco de Mayo as an opportunity to learn about Mexican history and culture helps cultivate an appreciation for both.  

HR is in a prime position to call out cultural appropriation when seen on campus, but more importantly, to help employees understand the difference between appropriating and appreciating a culture and its people. Here are three ways HR can foster an atmosphere of appreciation by encouraging campus communities to respectfully observe and celebrate Cinco de Mayo and other cultural holidays throughout the year:

  • Be Clear on the Difference Between Cultural Appropriation and Appreciation
    Appropriation can lead to a narrow view of other cultures, whereas the goal of appreciation is to gain a deeper understanding and knowledge of a culture’s people and practices. Is your campus community, including faculty and staff, aware of this distinction? Cultural appropriation is not always an intentional act, but that doesn’t make it any less hurtful or offensive. It’s important to address appropriation promptly.
  • Create a Culture Spotlight in Your HR Newsletter
    A simple way to foster appreciation for various cultures is to highlight details about holidays, clothing, food, religious traditions, etc., in your employee communications.
  • Deepen Your Understanding of Racial, Ethnic and Cultural Experiences
    Collaborate with your institutional or local cultural centers to bring to campus programs that provide additional opportunities for employees to learn about other cultures and ways they can support them. Your HR team can also spark meaningful conversations about race and ethnic issues by participating in programs such as CUPA-HR’s 21-Day Challenge: Black, Hispanic and Latinx (CUPA-HR members-only resource). This challenge focuses on understanding the history of Hispanic and Latinx issues and challenges, as well as needed action on campus.

Take a deeper dive into cultural appropriation versus appreciation by reading related commentary on the issue: Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation: Why It Matters; Americans Might Love Cinco de Mayo, but Few Know What They’re CelebratingPlease Don’t Wear A Sombrero: What Cinco De Mayo Really Means, From A Mexican

Related CUPA-HR resources:

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion resources page

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit