Volume 48 Number 2
Spring 2015

Special Feature

Wichita State University: Bridging the Visibility Gap using the Core Practice Competencies

Written by Jessica Drum (, Nicole Freund (, Jasmine Douglas (, Dan Clifford (, Refika Sarionder (, Deborah Ojeda (, Rhonda Lewis, PhD, MPH (

Wichita State University

"Increasing participation of psychologists in community-oriented mental health programs has focused attention on the need for training in this field of endeavor" (Bennet, Anderson, Cooper, Hassol, Klein, & Rosenblum, 1966, p. v).

“Community psychology concerns the relationships of individuals with communities and societies.  By integrating research with action, it seeks to understand and enhance quality of life for individuals, communities, and societies” (Kloss, Hill, Thomas, Wandersman, & Elias, 2012, p. 12).  

"The field of community psychology is devoted to advancing theory, research, and collaborative social action (at neighborhood, organizational, state, national, and international levels) to promote positive well-being, increase empowerment, ad- vance social justice, encourage understanding of each other and of issues that society faces, and to prevent the development of problems" (Hakim, 2010, p. 1)

"Community psychology employ[s] various perspectives within and outside of psychology to address issues of communities, the relationships within them, and related people's attitudes and behaviour" (Wikipedia, 2015)

Community psychologists know who they are and what they do. They can articulate in relevant, erudite ways the components of their work, the skills they develop and nurture, and the power of their discipline to encourage and enact positive change. The trouble, of course, is that few outside the field are able to say the same. The quotations above certainly highlight the many different facets of community psychology, but ask just anyone in a university, or on the street, what a community psychologist does, and their responses are not likely to mirror any one of these. Not even Wikipedia offers a definition that the average person is likely to understand or remember. Community psychology as a discipline suffers from a terminal case of shyness.

The roots of community psychology are also most likely what the average person imagines most readily when they hear "community psychology": mental health assistance. The Swampscott conference in 1965 was born out of a recognition that mental health interventions existing in community settings, where the ecology of the patients is considered, might be the answer to the very real and frightening problem of growing need and tightening human resources. Certainly mental health remains an important piece of the puzzle, but it is a confining definition for the field, and it does not accurately reflect much of the work done in practice by community psychologists. The increasing recognition of ecology, systems, and policy as influencing communities has affected the field greatly, but sadly seems to remain outside the everyday definition of what the field actually does. Thus there is a divide between what community psychologists do and what people see. The word "psychology" to most is still a synonym for "therapy," and this conceptual chasm prevents advancement of the field as well as recruitment of new troops to the social justice battle lines.

Undergraduates, in particular, need to be cultivated and presented with community psychology as it exists in all of its multifaceted glory. For them to conflate community psychology with clinical, as so often seems to happen, reduces the engagement of good students in both fields. Those students who long to affect populations rather than individuals believe their work must be in political science or policy, and those who long to lift individuals from their pain believe they are better served in medical school. Programs that actively reveal community psychology for its true identity need new and systematic ways of reaching university populations and allowing them to recognize that community psychology may be the field they belong in. The academic journal is neither prolific enough, nor, in the case of community psychology, adequate in terms of representation to reach the university audiences that must be reached.

Wichita State University - Our Solution

Bringing visibility to the field of community psychology is clearly not a new agenda.  A group of Wichita State graduate students, after actively discussing issues of visibility during SCRA Practice Council Monthly teleconferences, realized that many academic fields are successful in marketing themselves to undergraduate students.  On campuses across the nation there is a perceptible campus-wide visibility of social work, public health, sociology, criminal justice, geology, and many others, that achieve visibility by the intentional promotion of their student clubs, organizations, honor societies, and other outreach programs.  Students are heavily targeted and encouraged to be involved throughout their academic years by peers, advisors, faculty, and university administration. Additionally, student involvement is driven by the motivation to gain real life work experiences, build a sense of community, and to enhance their curriculum vitae or resume.  By modeling what other national organizations, such as Psi Chi National Honor Society, Community Psychology Association (or C Psi A) decided to develop a local chapter of SCRA to bring visibility to the field of community psychology. Furthermore, the enactment of an active student organization benefits our local community and university by practicing and applying community psychology methodology.

Society for Community Research and Action - Wichita State University Student Chapter: Community Psychology Association (C Psi A) was ratified as a Recognized Student Organization (RSO) at Wichita State University in the Fall of 2014.  The organization is currently led by graduate students in the Community Psychology Doctoral Program; they serve as the executive officers and are the founding members: President, Jessica Drum; Vice President, Jasmine Douglas; Marketing Director/Treasurer, Nicole Freund; Recruitment Director, Refika Sarionder; Community Outreach Director, Dan Clifford; Secretary, Debbie Ojeda.  Because elections for officers will be held once a year, undergraduates will also have an opportunity to take on leadership roles in the very near future and direct the activities of the organization.

The Community Psychology faculty at Wichita State University was fully supportive and encouraging of this initiative and the graduate students sought critical direction from Greg Meissen, PhD.  The organization currently receives academic guidance, supervision, recommendations, and advisement from C Psi A Faculty Advisor, Rhonda K. Lewis, PhD, MPH.  The executive committee strategically planned and developed specific lifelong goals for the student chapter: (1) To connect undergraduate and graduate students interested in community psychology practice, research, and social justice, (2) to undertake one research project per year that investigates issues of social justice on campus or in the community, (3) To prepare undergraduates for the rigors of graduate school and bolster graduate student experience as well as enhance marketable job skills for both, and (4) to propagate the essential ideals central to community psychology, including collaboration, empowerment, prevention, diversity, and ecology. The combination of these four goals serves to both integrate community psychology into more everyday experience for these undergraduates, increasing overall visibility and action over time.

The executive committee acknowledged that in order to bring visibility to the field of community psychology then it would be vital to be branded and marketed as, Community Psychology Association (C Psi A).  Additional processes included working with the University’s Student Involvement Office to become ratified as a Recognized Student Organization.  By officially being a part of the university’s infrastructure student organizations receive special incentives; examples include free branding materials, placement on the school website, meeting spaces, and involvement in campus events.  Finally, effective recruitment strategies were executed to actively build membership and to promote the field of community psychology.  The officers of Community Psychology Association (C Psi A) created flyers, built a social media presence, and distributed them across campus, all the psychology department instructors invited their students to join C Psi A, and officers were guest speakers in classes.  An important recruitment effort for the organization was participating in the campus involvement fair.  In the Fall of 2014, students who came to the C Psi A booth during the fair had the opportunity to spin the community psychology competency wheel (see Image 1.) to learn more about the field and a chance to earn a small prize.  


Through the active, continuous, and consistent recruitment processes C Psi A membership now includes 157 members, who include both graduate students and undergraduates, psychology and non-psychology majors.

C Psi A’s Current Work

The current research project, Students Collaborating for Culture Change on Campus: A Community-Based Approach to Sexual Assault Prevention, developed naturally out of current issues in the Wichita community and nationally.  The organization separated into work groups developed to attack the issue of sexual assault on campus from three different, coordinating perspectives: research, action, and engagement.  The research group is actively conducting focus groups with students, faculty, and staff about the culture of sexual assault, and a survey will be administered later in the Spring 2015 semester.  The action group dedicated their early work to discovering what other universities are doing to combat sexual assault on college campuses, and this group will also be taking the reigns during the next academic year when an intervention, guided by the research, will be implemented at Wichita State University.  Finally, the engagement group focuses on gathering the resources already available at Wichita State University and the Wichita community.  They are establishing relationships with other organizations, government agencies, and coalitions for collaboration.  Each of these work groups are giving students the opportunity to use the core practice competencies in community psychology by getting experience, while also making positive changes in their own community.

Encouragingly, C Psi A has already experienced success and accomplishment with the sexual assault project. The Wichita State Student Senate has passed a resolution that explicitly states their support in the continuation of research regarding possible solutions to the problem of sexual assault on campus.  The buy-in by the Student Senate provides political support and an ally to the logistics of the future intervention.  In addition, three graduate students attended the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in March, where they were able to attend workshops by influential individuals from around the world, offering guidance and useful creative problem-solving techniques. The organization has also received grant funding to support the local research.  These accomplishments will not only assist in reaching the local goals, but also in bolstering the sustainability of the organization and improving the visibility of community psychology.

In addition to the impacts being made in Wichita, the organization foresees an impact on the field of community psychology generally through offering a vehicle to increase the visibility the field so obviously needs.  It bridges a gap between the academic and pragmatic within the population of those who can contribute so much, but are aware of so little.  Updates from SCRA are and will continue to be disseminated to C Psi A group members.  This includes everything from information about various SCRA conferences, such as the biennial, to articles that are posted by the practice council and from colleagues in the field.  The goal is for members in the organization to know that there are greater resources out there, and community psychology is not just a function of local change, but also of change at the national and international level.  In addition, local advertisements of our organization will get people talking about community psychology.  Already, Community Psychology Association has been mentioned in the university newspaper; along with the Student Government Senate resolution in support of our research, other people and other fields are starting to talk about Community Psychology, and that is a small win in itself.

As we celebrate 50 years of community psychology our goal is to continue to increase our visibility of the C Psi A chapter and continue to support the values of our Society for Community Research and Action at Wichita State University. In the future we want to recruit more undergraduates to get involved in issues that matter to them. We implement and complete our research study. Lastly, that in the next 50 years we will get over our shyness.

Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank Dr. Greg Meissen for his guidance and mentorship during the development of C Psi A.


Bennett, C., Anderson, L., Cooper, S., Hassol, L., Klein, D., & Rosenblum, G. (1966). Community psychology: A report of the Boston Conference on the Education of Psychologists for Community Mental Health. Boston: Boston University.

Community psychology - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2015, from

Hakim, S. (2010). Community Psychology.

Kloos, B, Hill, J., Thomas, E., Wandersman, A., Elias, M., & Dalton, J. (2012). Community Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.