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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 54, Number 4 Fall 2021

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Education Connection

Edited by Tiffeny R. Jimenez & Moshood Olanrewaju , National Louis University

Enhancing the Vision for Community Psychology Education 

Written by Tiffeny R. Jimenez & Moshood Olanrewaju , National Louis University

Although the focus of this column is on consultations with our field regarding their vision for Community Psychology (CP) education, I would like to begin with a brief reflection on the personal context in which I am writing, one which has given the process of writing the column a special resonance for me (Tiffeny). This week I attended two funeral services. One for the brother of our dear activist-scholar alum/colleague (Dr. LaShawn Littrice), Gerald (Junior) Littrice, and another for an undeniably remarkable alum/colleague who passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Dr. Donna Woods. Donna was an inspiration to everyone who knew her. Through her doctoral studies she understood and advocated for a paradigm shift towards a restorative justice mindset for breaking the school-to-prison pipeline. My heart is heavy for the loss but I am deeply humbled by the stories of love and life reflected by families and friends. I leave with a deeper understanding of the lives of our students, their families, and our shared humanity. A recount of love and laughter makes sure of that. It is within this kind of relationship with our students that we learn a deeper sense of local culture and context shaping our Chicagoland communities, as is recommended by the data in this article.   

While we grapple with living through this pandemic, and all the associated challenges of inequity, lockdowns, new variants, isolation… I also hold the loss/harms occurring among our colleagues and their families in Lebanon and the daily oppression experienced by our families in Palestine; as well as the sexism, racism, ableism affecting the lives of our families in Australia, West and South Africa, Indonesia, New Zealand, Brazil, India, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Ecuador, Argentina, and all across communities within the borders of the United States. Whether the stories told/heard are from places in which my body resides, or other places around the globe, the feeling of familioso is present. We cannot deny our interdependence, and we can become more aware of cultural and contextual dynamics affecting all of us, as recommended in the data here.   

As the world calls out in pain, in many ways, I am grateful for this opportunity to be part of these ceremonies and connect with our colleagues’ families in this way, for these moments, these stories of love and life, are why we do this work. To be response-able when someone needs us, to hold empathy for each other and learn to act accordingly, to remember moments through tears and laughter, and to know that we have built these relationships through so many moments before this. These spaces are the places where we learn less obvious yet uniting forms of power beyond dominant mechanisms that hold us in patterns of harm, and where we hone humility. Through gatherings, classes, research, writing, activism, online groups, ceremony, and celebrations, we build this co-learning community from the beginning with this long view of vicissitudes in mind. These experiences provide a glimpse into what it can be like to be in deeper contextual and cultural understanding of our glocal communities, and our findings presented here remind us of the need for this level of connection in educating community psychologists. It is within this context that I reflect on CP education and the path forward. I thank Dr. Moshood Olanrewaju for accompanying me along the processing of the information collected, and in writing for this column.       

Development of the Idea to Talk with Membership 

Two years ago, we (National Louis University) hosted the SCRA Biennial in Chicago, Illinois. A pre-conference workshop was held to work on a theory of change for the Council on Education (COE). We ended this session with a plan for next steps, including drafting a COE Theory of Change (TOC). A draft TOC was developed and discussed in a COE workgroup in January 2020. The discussion of the draft occurred just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the following intense uprisings of social movements calling for racial justice. Though none of these events had yet occurred, I remember feeling the tensions rising from many spaces. 

Our review and discussion of the draft TOC raised several questions: Did it reflect what was discussed and learned about at the pre-conference session and conference overall? How could we ensure that the TOC included the diversity of experiences and perspectives within SCRA? As a faculty member of a CP education program supporting co-learning processes within one of the most diverse CP programs in the U.S. (and now, abroad), did I see those educational needs, supports, questions, tensions reflected in this TOC? We (the COE) wanted to be sure to hear from the various membership corners of SCRA that might have something more to add and to ensure we could develop spaces that fully support the educational and personal-political needs of our communities. It was suggested that we reach out further into the SCRA community to learn more and working group members embraced this step. 

Methods

To understand the broader membership’s perspective on CP Education, we developed a list of SCRA interest groups, committees, and councils (IGCCs). To date, we have interviewed members or representatives from 11 out of 28 identified groups (~40%): the International Committee, Indigenous Interest Group (IG), Organization Studies IG, SCRA Student representatives, School Intervention IG, Immigrant Justice IG, Critical CP IG, Decolonial Racial Justice Action Group, Environmental IG, the Practice Council, and the Committee on Ethnic and Racial Affairs.

An email was sent to identified co-chairs and representatives requesting discussion centering on 3 questions related to aspirations for CP education: 1) top priorities, 2) opportunities to build on, and 3) 5-year vision if we are successful. We met with the groups at their regularly scheduled meeting sessions or, for those groups that preferred, collected responses to questions by email. Live discussions were recorded as close to word-for-word as possible. No names were recorded ensuring confidentiality of responses. Some groups provided feedback on the data collected prior to analysis and reporting. The analysis of the data involved three coders across six steps: 1) reading through each group’s raw notes, 2) creating and analyzing within-case analysis tables for each group, 3) creating and analyzing cross-case tables; 4) describing summary themes for each question; and 6) integrating across question areas to identify commonalities to create one overarching framework/set of themes. Refer to Table 1 for a visual summary of how the set of themes from these data directly contribute to the TOC developed at the 2019 Biennial pre-conference.  

Results

The following section describes the main themes identified across the various IGCCs, where the number that spoke to specific themes are indicated within each section. It is important to note that, given the particular perspectives included within this data, the conclusions tended to lean towards perspectives that are more critical about CP education and current practices of the field in general. The five main themes that grew out of this data include: 1) Making Connections beyond CP, 2) Broadening and Deepening CP Education Curriculum Content, 3) Supporting Professional Development, 4) Re-Examining Traditional Education & Practices, and 5) Current Opportunities to Build on.  

Making Connections beyond Community Psychology  

Most groups (7 out of 11) indicated that to fully cultivate an understanding of the multiple dimensions of social issues addressed in CP, CP education needs to more extensively incorporate other disciplinary perspectives, beyond psychology and even beyond what has been designated as “science.” Breaking away from conceptions of the field that have compartmentalized ways we address social problems is the point here. Specific types of connecting suggested included: 

  • Connecting across disciplines 
  • Forming partnerships with advocates and advocacy organizations to connect students to social movements  (e.g., “sustainable human development,” “environmental justice,” and “community-based conservation”) 
  • Creating or reinforcing partnerships with local school systems 
    • Connecting school settings with local community change projects 
    • Partnering with schools to create opportunities for CP student research and practice and appreciate potential CP career paths in educational settings.  

Broadening and Deepening CP Education Curriculum Content

The second-largest category (5 out of 11) included three themes regarding what the content of CP education programs should include: Deeper Contextual and Cultural Knowledge, Understanding Power Dynamics, and Intentional Incorporation of Activism

  • Deeper Contextual & Cultural Understanding
    • Addressing root causes cutting across social issues 
    • Connecting local economies to indigenous worldviews/approaches supporting health 
    • Incorporating/centering minoritized group interests
    • Teaching about local contexts – what we already know about public settings, private and public organizations, and at multiple levels of analysis (e.g., micro, meso, macro) 
    • Using contextual understanding to inform the development of new settings 
  • Understanding Power Dynamics  
    • Respecting local systems of practice and valuing local knowledge 
  • Intentional Incorporation of Activism 
    • Making CP education action-oriented and community-driven (e.g., immigrant justice)
    • Preparing students to advocate for community rights and needs 
    • Providing training in the use of contextual knowledge in driving popular movements and policy change (e.g., environmental justice, Me Too, Black Lives Matter)

Supporting Professional Development 

There were varieties of skills and opportunities several interest groups felt they wanted to see more fully developed in educational efforts in CP, allied fields, and transdisciplinary programs  (5 out of 11). Some ideas were program- and student-oriented but some could apply more to post-graduate education and professional development as well. 

  • More full support for planning and completing theses/dissertations
  • Providing more “hands-on” research opportunities
  • Increasing accessibility and range of training opportunities on methods and analysis techniques
  • Creating more publication opportunities
  • Improving career assistance (e.g., navigating practitioner/non-academic job search, negotiating job offers)
  • Applying for funding (e.g., finding/securing postdoctoral fellowships, securing research funding)
  • Supporting the development of facilitation skills (e.g.,  small/large group processes, classroom discussions, managing conflict and peacebuilding) 
  • Developing organizations  (e.g., Cooperatives, grassroots organizations, social enterprise hybrids)
  • Building more collaborative partnerships across research and practice settings to create professional development opportunities (e.g. research collaborations)

Re-examining Traditional Education & Practices 

Some groups (4 out of 11) questioned the traditional educational structures embedded within the concept of the university (e.g., colleges, departments, programs, courses, etc.). To challenge these structures, groups identified two types of strategies: Embracing Decolonized Approaches to Education, and Engaging in Critical Global Citizenship Education

  • Embracing Decolonized Approaches to Education.The ideas expressed here included a need to consider how a longer history of oppression has shaped education in our field (e.g., colonization, white supremacy).
    • Infusing cultural understanding in curriculum development 
    • Re-considering origins and socio-political functions of psychological constructs
    • Unpacking and addressing power dynamics in education settings, such as those in advisor/advisee and mentoring relationships
    • Understanding how language privilege shapes curriculum (i.e., recognizing how languages people speak are not treated equally in society and how this spills into knowledge generation, publications, and educational institutions) 
    • Considering more intentional integration and understanding of how geopolitics intersect with social issues (e.g., understanding how misappropriation of land and other extractivism  are manifested in academic norms) 
    • Recognizing disjunctions between ethnicities and states 
  • Engaging in Critical Global Citizenship Education. The ideas mentioned here included the importance of gaining a critical analysis of CP education within a larger global history and developing ways to be more informed about knowledge from many locations to inform our local-global (glocal) praxis. 
    • Decentering U.S. Education and building a sense of community with CP programs globally 
    • Learning about methods for disseminating global scholarship and praxis such as repositories or learning abroad programs
    • Creating opportunities for education on global histories and dynamics

Current Opportunities to Build On 

There were a few ideas represented in the data across all groups that spoke to how we could consider building toward some of the aspirations expressed in the overarching themes.  

  • Cultivating online spaces (e.g., social media/sites, map work in different regions) 
  • Using online platforms to build relationships
  • Learning from new, innovative programs 
  • Developing certificate programs on specialized topics 
  • Improving accessibility of educational opportunities (e.g., inclusive post-graduate scholarship more accessible to diverse/disenfranchised groups)

 

  • Building on current relationships/partnerships with education programs around the globe 
  • Aligning curriculum with student interests in K-12 schools and undergraduate programs
  • Creating shared spaces where members can provide input on curriculum, pedagogical practice, and structural changes

Concluding Thoughts

Inevitably, when we talk about CP education, we are also necessarily asking the question: What is Community Psychology? The ideas in this article are encouraging CP to broaden its focus beyond paradigms in psychology and to question dominant practices. Conversely, they also raise the issue of the unique roles that CPs may be able to play. What is it that CP does at its core? What can we do to address the issues affecting our communities that cut across varied geographies? What unique spaces could CPs be instrumental in developing and sustaining as a community-building resource? 

Overall, the voices associated with this set of membership data calls for a re-orientation in how we develop and support CP education. One main challenge to aspirations in CP education included the distinction of the profession versus aspirations of the field. One group stated that although CP excels at understanding unique characteristics of communities, it often attends inadequately to structural factors that drive social problems that diverse communities locally and globally may share in common. Arguably, much of our effort within CP education has been too narrowly focused on professionalization of the field within existing institutional settings at the cost of supporting the development of curriculum and pedagogical practice that works to solve social problems. The data here suggest the value of focusing on structural problems and aligning with others also doing this work beyond the field. Addressing the issues at hand at the scale that is suggested here requires increased awareness and sense of interdependence with others around the globe. Therefore, we need to be intentional in enhancing our understanding of our own positionalities within the local and global sphere.  

The greater interconnectivity achieved in recent years through technological advances (e.g., zoom, apps, online platforms) provides many possibilities for innovation in CP education. We now have opportunities to build relationships and bridge learning across regions we were unable to connect with previously. Linking with the themes of embracing decolonized approaches to education, we could work to develop more of a global sense of community where we can engage in a deeper dialogue about how geopolitics of knowledge construction and dissemination influence local communities around the world and how education plays a role in this work. Future organizing for CP education should consider hearing from additional membership corners of SCRA not summarized by the data here. Given the breadth of suggestions, we may even want to consider creating a larger event (e.g., summit) to deliberate over these ideas and work together to design a way forward towards an enhanced vision of CP education. 

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