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Volume 51 Number 1
University of Illinois at Chicago
Challenging Times Call for Extraordinary Actions
The first anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March reminded me of the values that we stand for as a field and why we do what we do. Hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children marched and carried signs in cities all over the world. Why did we march? Not just to call attention to women’s rights, but to everyone rights and in particular the rights of individuals who have experienced oppression or marginalization in the land of opportunity. We marched to denounce oppression, hatred, discrimination, and sexism; to advocate for social justice, equity, equality, and human rights. Signs held high with such sayings as “Say no to sexism, racism, homophobia, & oppression;” “We the people refuse to be defined by hatred and ignorance;” “Protect the ACA;” “Love not hate makes America great;” “America is made great by its people--Immigrants, LGBT, People of Color, Muslims, Women, & People with Disabilities;” “Protect all Dreamers;” “No more attacks on the poor;” “Save the environment;” “Protect science;” and many more, are all very familiar to community psychologists and well-aligned with our values and principles. This movement is an extraordinary act to respond to unusually challenging times. This is not just about women’s causes or women’s rights. It is about the rights of all individuals, it is about respect and dignity for all, it is about communities caring for one another and ensuring that those most vulnerable have the opportunity to thrive. It is about “We the People Protecting Each Other.” These and other movements of current times—Black Lives Matter, #Me Too” to mention just a few--are extraordinarily brave acts of hope and calls for change. The assault on the rights of the poor, immigrants, people with disabilities, refugees, people of color, students, and ordinary people will continue under the current administration. We as a society, like many other professional organizations have done, can and should continue to take action. These and other movements of resistance have provided a safe space for women, immigrants, minorities, people with disabilities, LGBT, DREAMers, and others to express themselves and begin the process of liberation. We as community psychologists, who deeply care about communities’ well-being, will continue to be engaged with our communities, and will continue to wear different hats such as the activist, practitioner, and researcher with compassion and commitment to those who experience oppression. These movements and daring actions have strengthened our desire for change, and brought people together who share common values and appreciate diversity.
So the question for us, as community psychology researchers and practitioners, is how are we contributing to these movements? How are we advancing our commitment to diversity and social justice? Many of us have participated in local, state, and national advocacy efforts, assisted in crafting rapid responses, and other efforts which I applaud. I participated, along with Ken Maton, on putting together a collaborative interdivisional proposal to APA with divisions 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology), 35 (Society for the Psychological Study of Women), and 45 (Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race), which was funded on developing a toolkit for divisions to engage in advocacy at the local level to continue our battle for protecting the rights of individuals currently under attack. This toolkit will be available by the end of the year and it is just one example of the many things that our members are doing to address current challenging times.
It is evident that we as a society, of concerned citizens, have also made strides in moving towards social justice and embracing diversity. We have made great progress in recognizing and valuing diversity. This is evident in the increased number of people from diverse backgrounds joining SCRA; and the composition of the Executive Committee (EC)--having a Latina immigrant as President and the election of a large number of women to the EC. More recently, the EC voted unanimously to approve CERA as a Council (Council on Cultural, Ethnic, and Racial Affairs). CERA co-chair, Jesica Siham Fernandez, is now representing CERA in the EC. Also, SCRA has approved the creation of an “Immigrant Justice Interest Group” which has been very active since its insertion into SCRA.
It is my vision that we continue to strive for strengthening our commitment to diversity and inclusion and that we truly live to our values. As such, I am planning on co-facilitating, along with CERA co-chairs, a conversation about diversity during the Mid-Winter Meeting of the EC in Chicago in early February. I want to identify concrete strategies and accountability measures that we as a society can implement to truly embrace diversity and inclusion and have it be the lens from which we set up future action agendas and examine progress.
Consistent with this commitment, I will be launching a series of webinars on “Conversations about Diversity and Inclusion.” These webinars will be co-sponsored with CERA and the new Immigrant Justice Interest Group. The first one titled “Having meaningful reflections about diversity and inclusion in learning environments” is scheduled for February the 22nd from 3:00- 5:30pm Central time. Milton Fuentes, Helen Neville, and I will be leading this first conversation. Although this conversation will focus mostly on race, ethnicity and intersectionality, other diversity and inclusion webinar conversations will follow addressing other important dimensions of diversity. We will talk about the distinction between diversity as tokenism versus real diversity and inclusion, and about creating needed spaces for students and practitioners to talk about diversity, inclusion and intersectionality in comfortable spaces, and introduce practical exercises to encourage meaningful self-reflection and dialogue. A few months ago, I had such conversations with students in the College of Applied Health Sciences and the students appreciated the opportunity to open up and share their feelings and also practice strategies on how to have conversations with others on this topic. For some, these conversations are often awkward and hard to manage, so many prefer to avoid them all together. During our current challenging times, being able to engage in meaningful dialogues is critical.
APA is also trying to gather divisions to engage in meaningful conversations about these complex topics and promote political action. The APA Federal Action Network recently reported that over 55,000 messages to congress were delivered last year as a result of their calls to action! Furthermore, I had the privilege to represent SCRA at an APA meeting on Stress and Health Disparities. At this meeting, APA staff shared their new multicultural and cultural competency guidelines as well as a new video on Race in America. I and other division reps that attended the meeting had the opportunity to provide feedback on APA’s efforts. Another set of discussions at this meeting focused on the well-documented disparities that individuals from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds experience with regards to stress resulting from discrimination. Stress caused by racism, poverty, and limited access to resources and social capital among other factors have increased in America resulting in a very negative impact on health and well-being. APA put together a working group which developed a report with the aim of promoting action to reduce stress and address health disparities. Given that many of us are interested and conducting research and/or practicing in this area, I believe we can make significant contributions.
Spreading the word on what we do to address current challenging times and promote social justice, is also related to the promising ideas that have been discussed on the SCRA listserv lately that merit discussion and action. Such ideas proposed by many of you include descriptions of community psychology in the introductory texts of psychology, and the inclusion of community psychology in the Museum of Psychology being planned where we could display our archives. Disseminating and spreading the word about community psychology is everyone’s responsibility. Fields as small as ours are known to the extent that its members make it known. Many innovations in education, mental health, social policy, community development and capacity, health promotion, and others, have been developed by folks in our field. Some have been recognized for such amazing efforts, but others have not. In all, we need to do a better job of disseminating our work. An example of an important recent recognition of the contributions of community psychology to the public arena was Dick Reppucci, selected by the APA Committee on Psychology in the Public Interest as the recipient of the 2018 Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research in Public Policy. What an honor to have Dick as one of our SCRA members!
When working in inter-professional health-related fields, I often get the question “what is community psychology?” Lay people and other professionals may not know that many of the interventions they see or experience are grounded in the values and principles of community psychology (CP). We work on issues that matter to communities and individuals and we often work with other disciplines. With pride we can always make sure to mention the CP contributions to what we do, and share our professional affiliation. I often find myself explaining what we, as community psychologists, do to my colleagues in public health, applied health, disability studies, and occupational therapy, who collaborate with me on diverse community projects. Developing a strong professional identity is part of the image that we project. Efforts to spread the word about community psychology are consistent with our strategic plan on visibility. The media can play a critical role in disseminating the value of community psychology and it depends on us. As agents of transformation that we are, we can communicate to others what we do, including the distinct and unique values of community psychology in promoting social justice and human rights for all. So, let’s continue to support healthy communities in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
“We the people protect each other”