Committee on Cultural, Racial, & Ethnic Affairs



Volume 50 Number 4 
Fall 2017

Committee on Cultural, Ethnic & Racial Affairs (CERA)

Written by Geri Palmer,, Adler University and Jesica Siham Fernandez,, Santa Cruz University

Community Psychologists Engaging in Racial & Social Justice: Highlighting the Scholarship of CERA’s Mini-Grant Awardees

The Committee on Cultural, Ethnic & Racial Affairs (CERA) is committed to promoting the scholarship and contributions of community psychologists and allied professionals whose work centers on racial justice. Community psychology has long been committed to values of social justice, including addressing issues of cultural, ethnic and racial diversity. Within CERA, racial justice is a priority, and as a committee we seek to support the scholarship and projects of students, early career professionals, faculty, practitioners and allied professionals whose work engages with the issues of racial and social justice, specifically working toward equitable access to opportunities and institutional power, as well as, making visible the experiences, and voices heard, of ethnically, racially and culturally diverse communities.

In 2016-2017, CERA awarded five Racial & Social Justice Mini-Grants. Each of these community-based research projects and collaborations were selected on the merits of work, specifically their contributions to advancing racial justice and supporting the work of community psychologists who are engaged with racial, ethnic and cultural diversity, personally, and professionally. In this iteration of The Community Psychologist, CERA presents the work of three awardees, whose scholarship aligns with the expressed core values of community psychology, namely, social justice, empowerment, citizen participation and respect for human diversity. These grantees increased the visibility of, and opened the door for voices to be heard of communities of color and other institutionally marginalized or underrepresented groups. These groups included Black/African American students at a four-year university, Muslim women educators, racially and ethnically diverse youth at a boy’s detention facility. All of these projects focused on to centering the experiences and realities, as well as agency and dignity of communities and social groups who are navigating and resisting systems of oppression across various settings. We encourage community psychologists and others to consider how the work of these grantees seeks to address “White privilege” and other intersecting systems of power. We share these projects, to motivate, inspire and ground our work in commitment for social and racial justice.

Mapping our Formal and Informal Resources:

Addressing Black Student Concerns at the University of Miami

Elizabeth McInerney (PhD student), Ivann Anderson (student), Natalie Kivell (PhD candidate), Kacey James (student), Susie Paterson (PhD student), Laura Kohn-Wood PhD, Scott Evans PhD

University of Miami 

The Engagement Power and Social Action (EPSA) Research Team received a CERA Mini-Grant to work with members of the Standing Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), specifically Black Students’ Concerns (BSC), to complete a mapping project of formal resources across UM doing work related to Black students concerns. The project had two goals: (1) to understand the current state of communication among organizations addressing Black students concerns at UM, and (2) to use this information to help DEI and BSC form stronger partnerships in order to foster social action geared toward racial justice at UM.

Out of the 35 identified organizations, 22 successfully completed interviews, 2 were no longer in existence, 1 was declined participation, and 10 did not respond. The overall network density was 0.164 indicating that 16.4% of all the possible connections that could be made are being made in this network. The average number of organizations respondents were connected to was 12.105. Four distinct communities were identified within the UM Black Community. The final open-ended question revealed three major themes: representation, support, and connection. Based on the results, on April 17, 2017, EPSA and DEI students facilitated a “Sense-Making Discussion” aimed to create a shared understanding of the data results. All 22 participating organizations were invited to analyze the data as a group with an overarching goal to foster new and old relationships across the UM campus centered on racial justice. 20 individuals attended the discussion. A lively discussion was generated. Phase Two, to be completed in fall 2017, will be based on recommendations gathered from this discussion and will seek to further cultivate collective action within the UM Black community.

Muslim Women in Teaching

Tess Yanisch (PhD candidate) & Nicole Allen, PhD

New York University 

An exploratory interview study on Muslim women’s experiences in the context of teaching was conducted. We interviewed Muslim women about their backgrounds, motivations, and experiences as educators. Our research focus is on civic engagement—who contributes to their communities in what way, and how to foster such engagement among youth. We were interested in whether teachers see teaching itself as a form of civic engagement, and whether this career choice was related to any element of their own education experiences or family background. We added questions about whether teachers are trained to foster children’s civic engagement, whether they independently decide to do this, whether they think it are important, and (if so) how they do it. Islam emphasizes both education and giving back to the community; might narratives emerge that linked teaching, religion, and civic engagement? When the partnership with the French/Belgian study fell through, we decided that teachers’ identities could be also an exploratory focus by itself: few, if any, studies have looked at Muslim women without focusing on religion and gender roles.

We hope to continue to explore whether or how Muslim women connect with their identities in the context of teaching.  More abstractly, we hope that our study can help dispel stereotypes about Muslim women whilst demonstrating that Muslim women have other facets of their lives that are deeply reflective and insightful. We interviewed nineteen women over a two-year period; we hoped to reach 25, but recruitment efforts in the fall of 2016 failed completely. We speculate that Donald Trump’s candidacy for President of the United States may have made people wary of responding to a study focusing Muslim communities. The nineteen women we spoke with described their experiences of prejudice and stereotypes, from their peers and their students; when describing the power and influence teachers can have, several implied they were especially cautious to tread lightly on the topic of religion. Their observations on the delicate interplay between honestly answering a child’s question (“why are you wearing a scarf on your head?”), teaching students about diversity, being a role model, and the sensation of being under sharper scrutiny than non-Muslim teachers when navigating these situations have already been the topic of a presentation at this summer’s SCRA Biennial.

Boy’s Totem Town Gardening Project

August John Hoffman, PhD

Metropolitan State University 

I was very fortunate to be awarded CERA’s Social Justice Mini-Grant to secure funding necessary to purchase materials for the development of a vegetable gardening project for a youth detention center, called Boy’s Totem Town (BTT), which is located in St. Paul, MN. The Boy’s Totem Town facility was originally established in 1908 to help youth, who had minor infractions with the law, as well as to help them learn new skills and trades that would help them find employment. Today, the BTT facility serves over 30 ethnically diverse youth and offers a wide range of educational programs and courses that are designed to help teach a variety of academic and career-oriented skills. The facility consists of dorm rooms, community room, an athletic field and kitchen. The vegetable garden spans approximately one-third of an acre and the boys residing at BTT have volunteered in all aspects to make the garden a success.

On day one of the program (Saturday, May 6, 2017) the boys were divided into small groups or teams to prepare the area for planting. They first weeded, then rot tilled and cultivated the area into various plots to accommodate a wide range of vegetables. During the second week the boys volunteered to plant a variety of vegetables that they expressed an interested in growing, such as green leafy vegetables (i.e., Bok Choi and cabbage), squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers and corn. We are now currently in the harvesting phase where the vegetables will be prepared in the kitchen at BTT and in some cases the produce will be sold to the local community as a means of earning income for the youth. A short survey indicated that after participating in the gardening program the youths were more likely to eat healthier foods that were grown in the garden and they felt “better connected” with other youth while working in the garden. Finally, the boys indicated that they enjoyed working in the gardening program and indicated a desire to continue in the future.