Volume 52   Number 4 Fall 2019

Special Feature:  The 2019 Biennial

Edited by Susan M. Wolfe, TCP Editor

The 2019 SCRA Biennial was held in June at National Louis University in Chicago, IL. We asked members to share their experiences, reflections, or presentations in TCP. Six SCRA members responded to our call, and their submissions are presented here.

Mapping in and for Decolonial Transnational Critical Community Psychologies

Written by Jesica Siham Fernández, Santa Clara University, Christopher Sonn, Victoria University, and Ronelle Carolissen, University of Stellenbosch

At the 2019 Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) Biennial gathering in Chicago, the words decolonization, decoloniality and anti-coloniality figured prominently in session titles, abstracts and presentations. Although at previous biennials socio-historical connections to place, people and politics have been made to a modest extent, themes of decoloniality surfaced explicitly and intentionally to interrogate power. This, we believe, reflects a steady movement in the discipline of community psychology to engage with the decolonial turn (Maldonado-Torres, 2017). For recent community psychology scholarship engaged in topics of decoloniality, see the following special issues: South African Journal of Psychology (volume 47, issue 4, 2017), American Journal of Community Psychology (volume 62, issue 3-4, 2018), and Journal of Social & Political Psychology (volume 3, issue 1, 2015). Informed by the theoretical, methodological and epistemological contributions of Global South scholars, the decolonial turn refers a paradigm shift oriented to interrupting the colonial legacies of power that remain entrenched in ways of knowing, doing and being in the world (Maldonado-Torres, 2017). 

In the interest of working toward a transnational decolonial critical community psychology, rooted in values of justice, liberation and wellbeing, we organized a series of roundtables on the topic of decoloniality and decolonization. The first roundtable was organized in 2018 at the International Conference for Community Psychology in Santiago (Chile), and involved scholars from South Africa (Garth Stevens), Australia (Christopher Sonn) and the United States (Jesica S. Fernandez). Collectively and relationally, we reflected critically upon our respective engagements with the current decolonial turn across our respective contexts and various facets of our professional trajectories. Through these early conversations we sought to engage with and build upon the decolonial turn from our respective positionalities,linking across oceans,recognizing the historical inheritance of earlier waves of decolonial scholarship reflected in the work of Biko, Bulhan, Cesaire, Du Bois, and Fanon, among others.

Coloniality outlives colonialism, as Quijano (2000) claims. The coloniality of power refers to the continuous colonial thinking processes of the oppressed; characterized by relations of power that produce colonial race, class and gender structures, locally and transnationally, and in connection with neoliberal systems of dispossession (Grosfoguel, 2007; Lugones, 2003; Quijano, 2000). Coloniality lives on because the epistemologies that were borne out of colonial conditions have not allowed us the critical eyes – and the heart and fist – to de-link ourselves from the colonial practices and perspectives that inform theory, research and practice. 

As critical community psychologists, we locate ourselves, transnationally and intersectionally, within these colonial logics as we embrace a decolonizing standpoint in our efforts to decolonize our being and doing with others. We are vigilant and contest the coloniality of power in our teaching and research. As with many others, we find ourselves accompanying each other – carving out a path and constructing tools within the discipline of community psychology to aid us in this ongoing praxis of undoing and re-imagining toward decoloniality from our standpoints and histories. As a journey that we pave in solidarity, accompaniment and witnessing with each other, we realize that we walk without a map. The rich histories, local and Indigenous cosmologies, social movements, acts of dissent, and critical theories from the Global South serve as our compass for what we envision as a decolonial critical community psychology.

Building upon our conversations, which began on Mapuche land, we continued our reflexive dialogue at the SCRA biennial in the city of Chicago, the homeland of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi peoples. Grounding decoloniality within the socio-historical legacies of colonialism, which led to raced, classed and gendered forms of disenfranchisement and dehumanization, we contend that decolonization is a process of continued disruption and interrogation -- both of ourselves, our relations and the worlds we transverse (Lugones, 2003). In order to foster reciprocity and dialogue, we, Jesica, Chris and Ronelle, invited our roundtable session attendees to engage with us in the following questions:

  1. How does decolonial work diverge/converge with other critical projects evident in community and applied social psychology?

  2. How do you engage with the “decolonial turn”? What does the “decolonial turn” or decolonization/decoloniality mean to you? 

  3. How do you engage with or understand decoloniality from your own positionalities and locations? How does “decolonial work” feel/look like from within your own institution?

  4. How do you/we create a space where we can create dialogues on the decolonial turn

Each question was written on a large poster paper where attendees were encouraged to write a response, reaction or reflection. As attendees went around the room reading and responding to each question they were also invited to reflect and engage with the writings of others. Following this activity, attendees were invited to offer their reflections in a large group discussion. 

In a review of the responses written on each poster paper, along with our notes of the discussion that followed, we thematically discerned four themes that reflect attendees’ understandings of decoloniality given their disciplinary training, research agendas, sociopolitical contexts, and positionalities. These themes point to standpoints, ethics, and tensions and include: Generating knowledge With and from Within, Socio-historical Intersectional Consciousness, Relationship of Mutual Accountability, Unsettling Subjectivities of Power/Privilege.

Generating Knowledge With and from Within

Attendees described the importance of engaging in research that aligns with and is oriented to the development of epistemic justice, of producing/co-producing knowledge that begins from the material realities and social conditions of people’s lives. Knowledge that is grounded in the body – embodied subjectivities (Ahmed, 2004) – and rooted in place – loci of enunciation (Mignolo, 1999). The “research from below,” building from the ground-up, reflects cosmologies of knowledge that are experiential, intergenerational and anchored in people's lives. As one attendee stated: “I do not fully know [how to engage with decoloniality], but I think a place I start with is thinking about "abuelita" knowledge and the practices or ways of knowing by my mother and grandmother.” Abuelita is a Spanish word for grandmother. In many Indigenous cultures the elderly carry knowledge and wisdom that is passed down through generation. In Latin America, abuelita denotes the significance of womanhood, matriarchy, and her/histories.

Socio-historical Intersectional Consciousness

A key aspect of decolonial thinking that most all attendees highlighted was the importance of engaging with and understanding the significance of historic events, and their implications for contemporary social issues. Developing a critical consciousness of social issues as stemming from socio-historical conditions of inequity was listed by different attendees several times, particularly in its relationship to coloniality, dispossession, displacement and dehumanization. To illustrate this point, one attendee wrote: “Recapturing history, and our histories.” Evoking the power and significance of drawing intersectional socio-historical connections, another attendee stated: “Stepping into discomfort and teach history to build connections to today.” Both of these responses underscore the importance to historically anchor social issues, as well as our own positionalities, social and epistemic, in the making or re-producing of histories. To disrupt the coloniality of power and of knowledge we must interrogate the hegemonic narratives that have traveled across time and space.

Relationship of Mutual Accountability 

A necessary praxis of decoloniality is delinking from hegemonic logics, practices and structures of colonial power that often purport notions of dualism, positivism, and disembodied knowledge in theory, research and practice. The process of delinking ourselves from the plight and disenfranchising social conditions of others is not an element of decoloniality, however. On the contrary, decoloniality invites -- in fact, it requires -- that meaningful relationships and coalitions of co-intentional solidarity be formed and sustained. The work of decoloniality cannot be done alone. Indeed, as three attendees remarked: 

“Let us not silo ourselves from other fields.” 

“Engaging with students and communities in appropriate ways of building histories and community visions of change.” 

“How am I situated in this matrix and can be complicit.” 

As we undo the coloniality of power, we must remain humble and open as we strive to forge new bridges in accompaniment with others. Relational epistemologies and ethics toward decolonial links for liberation, transformation, and healing.

Unsettling Subjectivities of Power/Privilege

Several attendees reflected on the importance of “decolonizing the self,” of how one perceives oneself in relation to others, and how this self-concept inform their subjectivities. Tied to this process of critical reflexivity and de-ideologization is the interrogating of power and privilege as manifested within the positionalities and identities of the person. Attendees reflected on the importance of, as one attendee wrote: “abolishing whiteness.” Specifically, of contesting and challenging structures that reify the oppressions and invisibilities of people with marginalized positionalities. Echoing a similar remark, another attendee wrote: “Rematriation of indigenous land, reparation, abolishing whiteness, and building solidarities.” Indeed for most attendees decolonization was intrinsically tied to racial formations that keep whiteness intact. Decoloniality, as another attendee stated: “Starts with deeply examining my own privilege, whiteness and how this affects my thinking and action.” 

We all have a stake in the decolonial turn as these themes and statements demonstrate. We offer these as examples of how community psychologists from varied social locations, positionalities and professional ranks engage with and think about decoloniality/decolonization. We are striving to forge a trail for developing a decolonial critical community psychology praxis; we do so with humility, building on these reflections, dialogues and intentional actions. 

By considering questions about coloniality, and its implications for community, research, and action, we sought to map -- to see, read and listen. Attendees’ responses and reflections, as synthesized in these four themes reflect their and our engagements with decoloniality. The reflections and dialogues that surfaced from this gathering invited us all to consider critically and meaningfully: What is decolonization/decoloniality? How can it be done? And, by or with whom? We hope these questions will push critical community psychology disciplinary regimes in the goal of working toward new perspectives of the field. Decolonial epistemologies that honor and credit the body of scholarship from the Global South will strengthen the field as it strives toward intersectional, transnational, and multidisciplinary paradigms that align with liberation, wellbeing and social justice.


Ahmed, S. (2013). The cultural politics of emotion. London, UK: Routledge.

Grosfoguel, R. (2007). The epistemic decolonial turn: Beyond political-economy paradigms. Cultural studies, 21(2-3), 211-223.

Lugones, M. (2003). Pilgrimages/peregrinajes: Theorizing coalition against multiple oppressions. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Maldonado-Torres, N. (2017). Frantz Fanon and the decolonial turn in psychology: From modern/colonial methods to the decolonial attitude. South African Journal of Psychology, 47(4), 432-441.

Mignolo, W. D. (1999). I am where I think: Epistemology and the colonial difference. Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, 8(2), 235-245.

Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of power and Eurocentrism in Latin America. International Sociology, 15(2), 215-232.

Author Information:

Jesica Siham Fernández,, Assistant Professor, Ethnic Studies Department, Santa Clara University (United States)

Christopher Sonn,, Associate Professor, College of Health and Biomedicine, Victoria University (Australia)

Ronelle Carolissen,, Professor, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Stellenbosch (South Africa)

Tensions at the “Edge”: Reflecting on Edge Effects and Institutional Power

Written by Rama Agung-Igusti, Victoria UniversityAgung-Igusti-Headshot.jpg

The notion of community is central to the discipline of community psychology, as both unit of analysis and site of intervention (Sarason, 1974). Yet, the question has been posed, whose definitions of community are drawn on? Often colonial imaginings of community are evoked leading to essentialising and hierarchical discourses (Dutta, 2018). Whilst there are many disciplinary approaches to working with and conceiving of communities, post-colonial and critical theories can better attune us to the currents of power that run through and shape such research, and inform us on how we can best move from intervention to accompaniment (Evans, Duckett, Lawthom & Kivell, 2017; Reyes Cruz & Sonn, ). Using the metaphor of the ecological edge as a departure point, I propose that conceptual tools and frameworks such as contact zones, borderlands and boundaries, can enhance the way community psychologists approach and conceptualise work with racialised communities. In particular, how we can understand the symbolic and material effects of institutional language, on subjectivities and collective efforts of self-determination.

The ecological edge is a useful metaphor proposed by Burton and Kagan (2000) to conceptualise collaborative work between various communities, organisations and institutions. They describe three strategies for working across community and organisational boundaries: Working within boundaries, where change is targeted separately across communities and organisations and is inefficient in energy expenditure and capacity for coordinated change efforts. Working at the interface, involved efforts to bridge the boundaries of communities and organisations, this approach may lead to coordinated change but is energy intensive and may be unsustainable. Lastly, they propose maximising the edge, as an energy efficient approach, that draws on the natural resources and expertise of communities and organisations, and brings them together in collaboration to lead sustainable and coordinated change.  Maximising the “edge” contributes to a diversity of resources and opportunities that can enrich community based projects, known as “edge effects”, and entails supporting different communities to work together and share knowledge and experience, through the co-location of projects, teams and events, creation of organisations that span sectors, creation of new settings and the creation of multiple points of contact. Importantly, they propose that we must also strive for good stewardship of the “edge” through developing “edge species”, those who are skilled in working across settings, pooling resources whilst maintaining fairness in the way resources are distributed, and recognising and respecting the uniqueness of different communities.

However, much like in ecologies of the natural world, some species, namely organisations and institutions, can come to dominate and colonise the ecological edge, whether intentionally or unintentionally, threatening ecological diversity. Our understandings of “cost” and “resources” can reflect particular taken for granted understandings and serve to obscure hegemonic practices, and the maintenance of inequitable relationships within community based work. Critical community psychologies assert a need to venture beyond our own disciplinary boundaries in order to enrich our own understandings and approaches of community-based work (Evans et al., 2017; Sonn, 2011). Post-colonial concepts and frameworks such as contact zones, which draws on border theories, can extend our understandings of working collaboratively and generatively within the edge, and our understandings of inequitable power difference and its impacts. Mary Louise Pratt’s (1991) speaks of contact zones as “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today”(p. 34). Contact zones foreground relationality as well as the notion of trans-transculturation, a form of cultural production borne from the meeting of differently placed groups, that arise through interactions and across unequal power relations. Such an approach allows for a contextual and nuanced examination of relational practices between differently positioned groups, and is essential in “working on and through power inequities and across and through differences” (Torre et al., 2008). We can also look at the concept of borders as ideologically and socially constructed boundaries of difference, borders can be crossed and negotiated, and from the site of the border, and as Gloria Anzaldua (1987) proposes, new and hybrid understandings and identities can emerge disrupting dominant cultural narratives and histories, and contributing important symbolic resources for both individuals and communities.

It is further important to understand the meanings of collective projects that many communities engage in, beyond the language of policy and evaluation, impacts and outputs. bell hooks (1990), speaks of “home places”, important relational places of safety, healing, and affirmation that is a necessary respite from the violence of white supremacy and coloniality for many racialised communities. These spaces come in many forms, they can be informal settings, but can also exist within the form of projects and programs that emerge from the community development and human service delivery sectors. These are important spaces by and for community. Such understandings of these places may be explicit or implicit, and they may be spoken about in different ways to different audiences, from within community to outside community. Within this context there may be relationships with various stakeholders such as service delivery organisations, government funding bodies, university researchers and evaluators, professional sectors and various other communities. These organisations and institutions exist within, and are produced and shaped by historical, social and material inequities – and can be sites that reproduce ideologies of whiteness, amongst others. We can also see that government policies shape the language of grants, and grants and their evaluation requirements shape what programs and projects look like and do. This language constructs particular concepts that are ideologically constructed, coded and reproduced. Concepts such as professionalism or leadership, or concepts such as social cohesion or diversity. 

Such language can contribute to the misrecognition of raced subjects, a quote from a collaborator in my thesis project, a young creative practitioner, higher education student, and youth worker that identifies as belonging to the African diaspora in Naarm/Birraranga (Melbourne) in Australia, captures how this misrecognition is experienced:

“When it comes to being around people who aren’t your community you have to change yourself, you’ve got to speak a certain way, if you speak and people don’t understand you, you’re seen as unknowledgeable. Having to ensure that you are educated, and you know what you're doing around the people you're with so that you're not categorized as something you're not.”

This quotation shows how racialised communities are misrecognised but also how institutional and organisational language is named by folks of colour for the forms of supremacy it enacts. When thinking about how to better navigate community-based work, “maximise the edge” or develop “edge species”, it must also be recognised that folks from racialised communities are often already “edge species” or “border crossers”. They understand the power and effects of language and the need to code switch to navigate these spaces and resist misrecognition. Many are already very familiar with working with and maximising scarce resources to best serve their communities, engaging in generative creativity and transculturation, or finding ways to resist and transgress within the cracks of organisational and institutional spaces.

Contact zones and border theorising can better attune us to what happens at the edge. Adopting such a lens can make clearer the products and effects of power and difference, and perhaps in order to accompany those who seek to create home places, community psychologists need to better appreciate the resource cost of living and working within unjust systems in any type of exchange and collaboration. For there are implicit costs that are often unrecognised. Implicit costs of accommodation and acquiescence, that can give a reprieve from white fragilities, the ongoing emotional labour that is required to educate and inform, the relation work in fostering ethics of community care and building necessary solidarities, the daily embodiment of transgression and resistance, and the ongoing efforts to untether ones subjectivity to whiteness and coloniality. Adopting such a lens engenders a greater sensitivity to the complexities and diverse positionings within encounters at the edge, and it allows us to better see such costs and how they are produced. 

Perhaps then we need to think on how we can give up power, shift resources and support self-determination of community created spaces and projects as an ideal outcome of collaboration and working at the edge. Perhaps, as much as we think on how we can be generative, we can think on how we can best accompany, and work towards identifying and removing the “costs”, both implicit and explicit, interpersonal and organisational, that constrain efforts of racialised communities and individuals to create self-determined spaces, and have their subjectivities, epistemologies, and spiritualties valued. This work is a contestation of the misrecognition that continues to be perpetuated, and seeks to strive towards equity for all people. Community Psychology has a place in supporting this, but to do so, must seek to cross its own borders. 



Burton, M., & Kagan, C. (2000). Edge effects, resource utilisation and community psychology. In Third European Conference on Community Psychology, Bergen, Norway. Retrieved from http://www. compsy. org. uk/edge. htm.

Dutta, U. (2018). Decolonizing “Community” in Community Psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 62, 272-282.

Evans, S. D., Duckett, P., Lawthom, R., & Kivell, N. (2017). Positioning the critical in community psychology. In M. A. Bond, I. Serrano-Garcia, and C. B. Keys (Eds.) APA Handbook of Community Psychology: Vol. 1: Theoretical Foundations, Core Concepts, and Emerging Challenges, 107-128. American Psychological Association.

hooks, B. (1990). Yearning: Race, gender, and cultural politics. Boston, MA: South End Press.

Pratt, M. L. (1991). Arts of the contact zone. Profession, 33-40.

Reyes Cruz, M. & Sonn, C. C. (2015). (De) colonizing culture in community psychology: Reflections from critical social science. In R. D. Goodman & P. C. Gorski (Eds.) Decolonizing “multicultural” counseling through social justice (pp. 127-146). Springer, New York, NY.

Sarason, S. B. (1974). The psychological sense of community: Prospects for a community psychology. San Francisco, US: Jossey-Bass.

Sonn, C. C. (2011). Research and practice in the contact zone: Crafting resources for challenging racialised exclusion. In F. H. E. Almeida Acosta, G. H. Rivero, O. S. Badillo, G. I. Arteaga, M. E. S.  Díaz de Rivera & C. C. Priede (Eds.), International Community Psychology: Community approaches to contemporary social problems (Vol. 1). Puebla, Mexico: Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla.

Torre, M. E., Fine, M., Alexander, N., Billups, A. B., Blanding, Y., Genao, E., …Urdang, K. (2008). Participatory action in the contact zone. In J. Cammarota & M. Fine (Eds.), Revolutionizing education: Youth participatory action research in motion. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Author Information: Rama Agung-Igusti,, PhD Candidate, Victoria University (Australia)

Biennial Attendees Mapped their Favorite Chicago Assets

Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar and Amy Early, University of Illinois Chicago; Daniela Miranda, Universidad De Sevilla

Chicago is one of the most fascinating cities in the United States. It attracts a large volume of visitors every year and in fact every Biennial conference held in Chicago has broken records in the number of attendees.  The Biennial 2019 was no exception. Over 900 people attended the conference, not just because it was held in the beautiful city of Chicago, but also due to the terrific program put together by National Louis University. Taking the call for interactive poster sessions made by the Biennial planning committee seriously, my students and I decided to implement an asset mapping exercise, similar to what we have done in collaboration with the Latino community. 

Asset mapping engages community members in identifying strengths and resources that they like because of the benefits received, the joy or pleasantness experienced, or needs met, within a community or specific geographical space.  Asset mapping is a participatory, interactive and dynamic visual process (Kretzmann & McKnight, 2005). Asset mapping facilitates critical dialogue and conversations of community resources through a visual and dynamic process followed by reflection (Foster-Fishman, 2010). This process facilitates the identification of strengths and assets as defined by the community itself, in contrast to traditional deficit-based approaches that focus on weaknesses and needs. The visual aid of the map displays the physical relationships of places, settings, and resources that support residents’ wellbeing, and opportunities to play and engage in entertainment. Applications of community asset mapping have enabled participants to make connections between community resources and build on existing resources while focusing on residents as citizens and agents of change rather than passive service recipients (Mathie & Cunningham, 2002; Morgan & Ziglio, 2007). The process is designed to empower residents to develop self-advocacy skills by expanding on the areas identified, as they engage in the second step of brainstorming actions that they could take to address their unmet needs. Typically, community asset mapping is followed by a reflection session to discuss the process and why settings and resources are identified as strengths, followed later on by an open forum in which results are presented and residents have an opportunity to discuss how to maximize the assets, utilize assets to address areas of need, and engage in action steps.  Asset mapping assumes that community residents are experts of their own realities and capable of leading efforts to strengthen their communities (see Miranda, Garcia-Ramirez, Balcazar, & Suarez Balcazar, 2018). This approach empowers groups to share experiences, build collective knowledge, and develop a critical view of their community.  

We implemented an asset mapping methodology with a group of Latino parents in a predominately Latino neighborhood in Chicago. In our study, Latino parents of youth and young adults with disabilities identified two local churches as one of their main assets due to the many services received, including legal aid, social and spiritual support, educational and health services. Another important asset included a local community agency, which provides a variety of programming to people with disabilities and their families. Participants also mentioned the fact that programming was offered in Spanish, reflected the Latino culture, and targeted the whole families were important characteristics of these community assets (see Miranda, Early, Suarez-Balcazar, Kewell, & Maldonado, under review).

During the Biennial, we only implemented the mapping process, not the reflection that often follows, neither a discussion and action planning resulting from the discussion of results.  

Mapping Chicago Assets

During the poster session at the Biennial, we created a poster that depicted a large map of Chicago made in google map. The map highlighted areas geographically close to National Louis University, some of Chicago tourist attractions and landmarks, the Loop, downtown, the Water Tower area, and the near north area. Participants were invited to list favorite Chicago assets not included on the map, in a separate paper board. We placed the poster in the same room where the poster session took place and left it up for 2 days. Participants were asked to place a star (color coded according to place of residence) on their favorite Chicago asset and a smile sticker on their second Chicago asset.  A total of 119 Biennial attendees participated in the mapping activity, a little over 10% of conference attendees. Thirty-two participants were from the Chicago area (27%), 57 from outside of Chicago within the US (48%), and 30 (25%) were international attendees. 


Favorite Chicago Assets according to Biennial Attendees 

(in order according to the highest number of votes):

Chicago area residents:

  1. Lincoln Park Zoo

  2. Navy Pier

  3. The Mexican Museum 

Second favorite for Chicago area residents was The Art Institute

USA residents outside Chicago

  1. The Art Institute 

  2. Millennium Park

  3. Campus Museums: Shed Aquarium/field museum and the River walk (equal number of votes)

International Attendees

  1. Millennium Park

  2. The Art Institute and Architectural tour (same number of votes)

  3. Shedd Aquarium 

Overall, the Art Institute followed by Millennium Park received the highest number of votes.  Other Chicago assets identified by participants included Wrigley Field and the North Avenue Beach. Chicago area residents identified 17 sites (at least one vote) as their favorite, while US residents outside Chicago identified 14 sites, and international attendees identified 11 sites.  As expected, Chicago folks are likely to know Chicago and its gems better than those living outside Chicago. 

Having the Biennial conference in Chicago pays off. It attracts the most Biennial attendees compared to other conference sites, and equally important, people have the opportunity to enjoy our beautiful city.  Maybe we can start persuading National Louis University to host the Biennial in 2022, after Vanderbilt. We know well that they will do a fabulous job. 


Foster-Fishman, P. G., Law, K. M., Lichty, L. F., & Aoun, C. (2010). Youth ReACT for social change: A method for youth participatory action research. American journal of community psychology46(1-2), 67-83.

Kretzmann, J. & McKnight, J. (2005). Discovering community power: A guide to mobilizing local assets and your organization’s capacity. Battle Creek, MI: W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

Mathie, A. & Cunningham, G. (2002). From clients to citizens: Asset-based community development as a strategy for community driven development. (Occasional paper no. 4). Antigonish, NS: Coady International Institute.

Miranda., D., Early, A., Suarez-Balcazar, Y., Kwekel, H., Maldonado, A., & Garcia, Ramirez, M. Engaging Latino Immigrant Parents and Caregivers of Youth with Disabilities in Community Asset Mapping. Manuscript submitted for publication. 

Legal Observations: An Approach Towards De-escalating State Violence

Written by Katelyn Saft, University of Alaska Anchorage SAFT_picture.jpg

As recommended, I commenced my biennial experience with a crash course to a conference for undergraduates. The session stressed the importance of strategically planning what you want to gain from the conference. Due to the vast amount of sessions, burnout is common for first-time national conference attendees. We were instructed to diligently plan each day of the four-day conference, while remaining mindful of self-care. Conscious reflection following the sessions would help us consider how we could use the information learned. Exploration of the community in which we were embedded – Chicago – was recommended as well. 

My goal in attending SCRA was to return home with knowledge about oppression and social justice, understanding where my energies could be best directed for change. I wanted to learn the history that informs human rights laws, our institutions, and how individual rights are impinged upon and protected.  I could not imagine a more impactful national conference experience for a first-timer than the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) 2019 Biennial Making an Impact Ecological Praxis: System Complexity, Cycles of Action, and Extending our Metaphors with the Natural World. The conference was truly transformative in my professional development. One session that particularly impacted me was Rapid Responses to State Violence: Considerations and Possibilities hosted by:Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), Your Allied Rapid Response (YARR), People's Response Team (PRT), and Chicago Torture Justice Center (CTJC). 

In this session I leaned more about historical trauma, institutionalized racism, white supremacy and systems of oppression and marginalization.  An extreme power difference exists between law enforcement and the families and communities they are charged with keeping safe – particularly those who are marginalized – sometimes resulting in police terror and state violence. To address this, the People’s Response Team (PRT) organized to de-escalate situations involving police via bystander intervention in an effort to eradicate police violence. Similarly, Your Allied Rapid Response (YARR) actively resists state violence and intimidation inflicted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Both organizations provide specific trainings for rapid response teams to legally observe ICE and police activity, relaying both expectations of their roles as legal observers and precautions to avoid risks. Legal observers are not neutral; they document ICE and police activity to attempt to de-escalate the situation and build evidence that can potentially be used to support the individual being targeted by actors of the state. Legal observers do not serve as spokespeople for the individual targeted or their families, maintaining their role as observers. It’s important for legal observers to keep in mind the risks as well: They can be perceived as combatants of the state, and with increased interaction with police or ICE, they run the risk of potentially being detained or arrested, even though their observations are legal. Therefore, it’s ideal to have two legal observers together. One can film the police or ICE interaction and the other can film the first observer.

Given their power, law enforcement also holds the ability to change the narrative of events that transpire in leading to the death of a loved one at the hands of the state. There is uniqueness to the trauma that occurs in the process of seeking justice and later realizing that justice may not be possible. Often, additional trauma is inflicted on the families of the victims through dehumanization and criminalization of their deceased loved one through the media. There can be twisted narratives and even lies. Furthermore, families that experience police terror often encounter further police harassment during their journey to seek justice. The impacts of police terror on children and families cannot be overlooked. And so, another way we can address state violence is to accompany families as they seek justice following state violence. The Anti Police Terror Project (APTP) assists families by advocating for independent autopsies of their deceased loved one as well as providing accompaniment to police stations. 

Addressing state violence through individual actions is important. However, we can also address state violence and the trauma it creates through higher order, structural change. For example, the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials advocated for a reparations ordinance for decades, and on May 6th 2015, the Chicago City Council passed the ordinance unanimously. In doing so, Chicago became the first city in the U.S. to provide reparations for racially-motivated police violence. It included a formal apology to the abuse survivors, a public memorial, a lesson on police torture in public schools, and services for the torture survivors and their families – counseling, free tuition, job placement, and access to re-entry services. The Chicago Torture Justice Center works to help support the healing of the survivors of police torture. It operates through the political healing model and includes rebuilding from structural trauma, dismantling systems of oppression, and creating systems of reparations. 

As a cis-gender white woman in a hetero-normative white-supremacist society, I have a responsibility to use my intersecting privileges to work towards social and economic justice. Through this session, I learned that one way in which I can do so is as a legal observer, as I’m likely to be viewed both with privilege and as non-threatening by the state. The mere presence of an informed legal observer can potentially de-escalate tension and prevent possible violence and lifelong trauma. Simultaneously, I can gather evidence that the victim of state violence can use in their cases if they so desire. In these ways, calls to action through non-violent direct means can enact positive social change. Because I have never had to interact with ICE, I was under the naïve perception that the status of authority figures infers credibility. My heightened awareness of state violence against persons of color via these authority figures, including immigration and law enforcement, will influence my behavior, both inside and outside of the voting booth.  Thanks to this year’s SCRA biennial, I am in the process of becoming a more informed citizen. Knowledge is power and it is meant to be shared.

The Student Membership Circle Winners at the Biennial 2019

The Student Membership Circle was approved by SCRA’s Executive Committee at the Mid-Winter Meeting in 2017 as a way to recognize students’ membership and participation in SCRA. This is the second Biennial in which we implement this new initiative.  Three community psychology programs were recognized at the Biennial 2019 in Chicago, as having the highest level of SCRA student membership.  

The Gold Ribbon Award went to DePaul University graduate students, some of which are pictured below along with their faculty and SCRA 2019 President and President-elect. 

For more information about DePaul’s graduate program in community psychology please visit:


The Silver Ribbon Award went to Portland State University, Community Psychology Program. For more information about the program click the following link:

The Bronze Ribbon Award went Wichita State University, Community Psychology Program, pictured below. For more information about the program see link:


The Student Membership Circle will be implemented every Biennial year. The Executive Committee congratulates all the winners and expresses deep gratitude to all the students who participate in SCRA activities and committee. Thanks to all the students who are involved,   SCRA is a vibrant professional organization committed to promoting social justice for all.  

Navigating the Tenure and Promotion Process: A Biennial Conference Panel Discussion with Members of the SCRA Research Council

Written by Jacob K. Tebes, Yale University

Sustaining and growing training programs is a key challenge for community psychology. There are currently about 30 community psychology doctoral and master's programs each in North America and about 15 of each world-wide. These programs also offer undergraduate education in community psychology as do at least as many colleges and universities across the world. Given the small number of community psychology programs, continued training and education in community psychology, particularly at the graduate level, is critical to sustaining the field. That is one reason why successfully navigating the tenure and promotion process is not only an individual challenge for early career faculty but one for the field itself.

Since its inception just over a year ago, the SCRA Research Council has sought to address this issue. With support from the SCRA Executive Committee, the Council established the SCRA Research Scholars program in which early career scholars apply to be matched with a senior SCRA mentor in support of their research; some applicants also receive a small research grant. In addition, the Council is identifying other ways to support early career scholars that will be announced in the coming year. 

One such initiative was hosting a recent panel discussion at the recent 2019 Biennial Conference on “Navigating the Tenure and Promotion Process.” Conducted by representatives from the SCRA Research Council, the session was attended by 17 early career faculty from a variety of academic settings.  A blend of senior, mid-career, and early career faculty from the Council comprised the panel: Nicole Allen (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign); Fabricio Balcazar (University of Illinois, Chicago); Dina Birman (University of Miami); Andrew Case (University of North Carolina, Charlotte); Lauren Cattaneo (George Mason University); and Jack Tebes (Yale University; panel chair and moderator). Noelle Hurd and Chris Keys (Research Council Chair) also contributed to developing the session.  

Panel members shared observations from their own experience mentoring faculty through this process and/or navigating it themselves. Three main themes were discussed: 1) know your local context; 2) think early on about possible referees; and 3) be honest with yourself. Below we summarize each theme and conclude with a brief discussion of next steps.

Know your local context. Each university or college has its own requirements for promotion from Assistant to Associate Professor, which was the focus of the panel.  For most universities, promotion to Associate Professor includes tenure, but this is not always the case. Research intensive (so called R1) universities usually emphasize peer-reviewed publications, preferably in higher impact journals, and receipt of independent extramural research grant support, particularly from federal institutes or centers. In contrast, universities or colleges that prioritize teaching may give greater emphasis to teaching evaluations, student mentoring, and coverage of key courses/seminars.  Although publications and grant support may be valued, they may not carry as much weight in the promotion process. Finally, colleges or universities that prioritize community or university service, particularly academic institutions with a strong service mission, may give considerable weight to those activities, on par with research or teaching accomplishments. Early career faculty were strongly encouraged to find out what is valued at their institution, to inquire about the process of promotion and tenure at their site, and to learn about their rights and responsibilities in this process.  

Think early on about possible referees. Most academic settings require letters from outside referees, senior to the candidate, who are asked to complete an independent review of the candidate’s promotion materials. Those materials may include a complete curriculum vitae (CV), teaching evaluations, representative publications, a narrative statement about their career, and other locally relevant materials.  Knowing your local context will help you identify what is important to include in your materials. Referees who agree to complete a review of your career will be asked to comment on those materials. An independent referee is not someone who has mentored you or with whom you have collaborated, but most settings do allow for a few referee letters to come from collaborators or mentors. Candidates may have some input in identifying possible referees, often done in collaboration with a senior faculty member at your institution, but the final referee selection is done by your Department or Dean, and at their invitation. The possibility of input into this process means that is it a good idea for early career faculty to begin thinking early on about possible referees that they may want to recommend to their senior faculty sponsor. Referees who know you because they have met you on a panel, at a conference, or on a committee are usually considered independent because they have not collaborated with you on research, teaching, or service.  

Be honest with yourself. Throughout this process it is important to be honest with yourself about your strengths and vulnerabilities as a candidate for promotion. This can be difficult because you feel that so much is riding on the outcome of this process. However, it is important to remind yourself that there is no perfect candidate for promotion; ever. Even the strongest candidate has vulnerabilities since each institution, like each candidate, is different may value different qualities in a candidate at a given time. Seek out a trusted mentor or colleague who will be honest with you in assessing your strengths and vulnerabilities for promotion. Once you identify your vulnerabilities, begin to address them as early as possible in your academic career. One way to do this is to draft materials for promotion years before they are due so that you develop a narrative about your contributions and accomplishments, such as your program of research; scholarly, teaching, and/or community service contributions; and citizenship to your department or university, well before you must do so. This will help you identify areas requiring further attention that you can address in time for promotion.

There was a robust subsequent discussion by participants to the session. One discussion topic included the isolation experienced as community psychologists by some faculty in undergraduate academic institutions or in interdisciplinary academic settings. These faculty welcomed opportunities for further mentorship or support from senior scholars in SCRA. Some faculty at graduate institutions reported that they did not know the details of the promotion and tenure process at their site and resolved to find out more based on participating in the session. Finally, several faculty participants shared tips they have used to connect with other scholars, which were also endorsed by members of the panel. These included making self-introductions to senior colleagues at conferences or meetings and sending them their work unsolicited as a way to introduce themselves.   

The SCRA Research Council welcomes ideas and suggestions about how it can support the work of early career scholars, including following up your comments on this session. To do so, please feel free to contact Jack Tebes at