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Volume 44 Number 4
University of South Carolina
Community Research, Action, and Reflection
Over this past year, I have attended several celebrations that encouraged people to share stories of accomplishment and to look forward to future events: graduations, milestone birthdays, new jobs, moving. At most of these events, people shared pictures, and if time allowed, they shared stories about how things have changed over the years. I was struck at how these celebrations provided opportunities to re-connect for friends moving in different directions, to reflect upon and to critique lessons learned, and to encourage those planning for new adventures.
SCRA is entering a period of anniversaries that are worthy of celebration, reflection, and that can be used for organizing new developments in the field. It is approaching 10 years since the first international community psychology conference was organized by Irma Serrano Garcia and colleagues at the Universidad de Puerto Rico in 2006. It will soon be 30 years since Jean Ann Linney and colleagues organized SCRA’s first biennial conference in Columbia, SC. It has been 40 years since Emory Cowen was invited to write the first community psychology focused chapter for the Annual Review of Psychology earning respect for a newly organized group scholars and practitioners identifying themselves as community psychologists. This coming May will be the 50th anniversary of the Swampscott Conference that many point to as the key organizing moment for community psychology in the U.S. I would like to use this column to start a dialogue sharing our snapshots of accomplishments, reflect on lessons learned, critique where we need to do better, and anticipate of the new developments emerging for our field.
Over the past year, SCRA members have spent considerable time working to create new ways to share information. We have been developing capacity to use social media, a new website, webinars to lift up examples of community action and research that can educate others about our fields and to encourage the development of community psychology. This coming year we want to use these platforms to share more broadly and facilitate discussion and dialogue. While these media tools can encourage sharing information and successes, not all pictures of ourselves are pretty or lead us toward sentimentality. Some images need to be mirrors that we hold up to ourselves and help mobilize or rededicate ourselves to change. I am particularly hopeful that these media can encourage dialogue and sharing multiple views of community psychology, SCRA, and where we can take the field.
The Swampscott Conference “on the Education of Psychologists for Community Mental Health” was instrumental in searching for new goals and new roles that psychologists might play in working toward social change, addressing inequities, and challenging oppression. The conference’s vision and energy have inspired many people to search for new ways of doing research, new goals for action, and roles for training. However, as several commentators have argued (e.g. Mulvey, 2005; Watts, 2005; Olson, 2005), psychologists were coming to ongoing social movements late in the game in 1965 U.S. Those who were privileged to be invited to the first conference were overwhelmingly male, White, and connected to respected institutions. While we have made progress in becoming more inclusive, it has been slower than many expected and clearly work remains. As a field, we have been making efforts to gather stories and snapshots of events leading to Swampscott. We need to lift up more accounts of those who were not at this particular conference table, but have been and are instrumental in the development of the different branches of community psychology we have today. In the spirit of dialogue, I share some of the examples of expanding community psychology that I’ve seen this past year that were likely not imagined by those who attended that formative conference.
Although community psychology still works for visibility in North American psychology, it is notable that three community psychologists were recognized at the 2014 APA Conference for their contributions to psychology over their careers. Lonnie Snowden was given the APA Public Interest Award for lifetime contributions to improve mental health policy. His talk focused on economic policy interventions for African American families living in poverty. Tom Wolff was recognized for his promotion of community psychology practice with the APA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Independent Practice. Gary Melton received the APA Senior Career Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest for work on promoting individual, family, and community-level well-being in a variety of settings. As demonstrated by these awards or a review of our journals, the range of topics studied by community psychologists has expanded greatly over the years.
Where community psychologists do their work has also expanded. A growing number of community psychologists have leadership positions in academic, agency, non-profit, and practice settings. Community psychologists are helping to shape priorities for innovation and intervention through positions in grant making foundations. For example, Judith Meyers is the President of the Children’s Fund of Connecticut and Vivian Tseng is a Vice President for Program at the William T. Grant Foundation. Similarly, an increasing number of community psychologists are serving as academic leaders. Holly Angelique at Penn State Harrisburg, Susan McMahon at DePaul University, Beth Shinn at Vanderbilt, Emilie Smith at the University of Georgia are Department Chairs. Some have served in academic administration as Associate Deans (e.g., Anita Davis, Rhodes College; Anne Brodksy UMBC), Deans (e.g., Jean Ann Linney, Villanova) or Provost (Ana Mari Cauce U of WA). Certainly balancing administrative roles with values of the field can be challenging, but having community psychologists in these roles also creates opportunities to advance the field.
Community psychologists also are leading organizations with enormous budgets and responsibility for changing systems. Arthur C. Evans Jr, Ph.D. is the Commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS) with a $1 billion operating budget. Rich Jenkins is a program officer at Prevention Research Branch at NIDA. Caryn Blitz is Senior Program Analyst in the Office of the Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth & Families, at the US Department of Health and Human Services. Rebecca Buchanan is the Division Chief in the Bureau of International Labor Affairs at U.S. Department of Labor. Bill Neigher is the Vice President for System Development and Chief Strategy Officer for Atlantic Health Systems.
Would the people who organized the Division of Community Psychology in 1967 recognize what has become the Society for Community Research and Action? We now have enough activity to require an Administrative Director, Victoria Scott, who has been invaluable in guiding initiatives and helping plan the transition in our volunteer committee members from year to year. Our operating budget, income, and expenses have become much more complicated and these new financial realities challenge the role of a volunteer treasurer to meet our organizational needs. SCRA gives a range of awards and honors fellows (get your nominations in now!). We have a variety of interest groups not envisioned 50 years ago (e.g., Aging, Community Action, Community Health, Early Career, Environment and Justice, LGBT Concerns, Organizational Studies, Rural, School Intervention, Self-Help, & Mutual Support). We have several committees that are integral for the development of SCRA initiatives (e.g., Committee on Cultural, Ethnic, and Racial Affairs; Committee on Women; International Committee, Professional Development Committee; Public Policy Committee) and two councils that engage members in core activities of community action, research, and training (e.g., Council of Education Programs; Community Psychology Practice Council). I encourage you to look at the resources that these groups have on our website (www.scra27.org) and consider getting involved by contacting the chair of group in which you are interested.
Finally, the persons attending the Swampscott conference would have had no way of anticipating how we are communicating with each other. We all owe a great deal of thanks to an energetic and creative group of people have helped us launch our social media presence, create our new website, and webinar capabilities this past year, including Lindsey Zimmerman, Ashley Anglin, Gina Cardazone, Jean Hill, Carlos Luis, Taylor Scott, Olya Belyaev-Glantsman, and Sarah Callahan. We still have more work to do. If you have an interest in helping SCRA build its social media capabilities, please contact Victoria Scott at email@example.com.
At the risk of mixing too many metaphors, these snapshots that I’ve collected of SCRA over the past year document many ways of doing community psychology and many ways to contribute. SCRA as an organization is not the same as the “field of community psychology” nor does it subsume all “community research and action”. Community psychology is much bigger than SCRA. Yet, we have important roles in promotion of the field and collaborations with other disciplines and community partners. Limitations in space and time do not allow sharing here of many more images of contributions that SCRA members are making to community psychology or the issues that we are working through. Please share your vision for the field and examples of good work through Facebook (SCRA27), Twitter (#SCRA), our Website resources, by submitting articles to The Community Psychologist and American Journal of Community Psychology, and at the Upcoming Biennial Convention in Lowell, Massachusetts, USA on June 25-28, 2015. Find information about the conference and a call for proposals on our website: www.scra27.org. I hope you join in the dialogue!
Mulvey, A. (2005). Creating false sides or whole communities: The role of ideology in community psychology. The Community Psychologist, 38(4), 29-31.
Olson, B. (2005). Six paradoxes post Swampscott: Struggles for the next four decades. The Community Psychologist, 38(4), 32-35.
Watts, R.J. (2005). Good news bad news in community psychology. The Community Psychologist, 38(4), 31-32.
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