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Volume 49 Number 3
Pacific Lutheran University
One of my favorite classroom exercises was provided by Marybeth Shinn on the teaching resources section of the divisional website. Different groups of students are presented with two questions on causes and responsibility for homelessness or for school
Why do some people become homeless? Why do some students drop out of school?
Why do so many people become homeless? Why do some schools have such high drop out rates?
The first set of questions usually leads students to describe individual causes and responsibility for the problems. The second group of questions elicit system level answers. When the students realize the effect of the type of questions they have been asked, they seem to better understand the effects of a community psychology perspective. Shinn proposes that “the framing question” is critical to our theory and our work. The effect of the different framing is a point to which I return throughout the term.
Among the reframing perspectives is the importance of context in explaining behavior. The important difference in attribution explanations is keenly seen in the social psychology literature of in and out-group biases. This emphasis on context provides more advantageous and constructive frames to the questions we ask and the answers we seek. Ed Tricket and Marybeth Shinn in their respective Annual Review articles remind us that context is important to both our theory, our research and our interventions. Jack Tebbs broadens the contextual perspectives within our journal.
The second reframing perspective that has always attracted me to a community psychology is the recognition and appreciation of diversity. Julian Rappaport provided this in textbook form early in
the definition of community psychology. Amado Padilla and Joseph Trimble presented this in practical terms early in community psychology literature, when they proposed that ethnic groups might more likely engage with social service settings which were aware of their culture and spoke their language. Stanley Sue and Lonnie Snowden have emphasized the importance of recognizing cultural and ethnic variables in both the individual and systemic examination of community interventions. More recently, Joseph Gone has reminded us that our research has to match in some manner the “ways of knowing” for our communities.
I am reminded of these perspectives: of the importance of context, and of the importance of cultural and ethnic diversity in our theories and in our interventions. An understanding of context and diversity informs the social and community issues of our times. I think of a comment made by colleagues and friends, Leonard Jason and Richard Wielkiewicz. They separately noted the opportunities in our classrooms and in our texts to influence the thinking in our students. The comment was again made at this past divisional midwinter meetings. In our community psychology courses and in our other classes, the framing questions can be posed. Alternately, in missed opportunities, how frequently have community psychology principles been identified in our introductory psychology, adjustment, developmental, social and abnormal psychology courses? Since many of us teach such courses, and we write for such courses, there are many opportunities to describe community psychology in application. Do we take the opportunities to note community psychology frameworks in other courses, where hundreds of students are enrolled? How do we transform student thinking from an individual to a systems/context focus; from a “color blind” perspective to an appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity?
In my final presidential column, I offer questions. How do we make an impact on systems, communities and society? How do we come to an appreciation of our diversity and differences? Are there newer methods for working with these concerns? Is our division well positioned to address these questions, which frame the challenges that continue to guide the work of community psychology. I have been privileged to serve as President of the division, which has played an important role in shaping my scholarly, academic and professional life. As the result of the division’s initiatives, there are changes that have been made over this period, but they are really just setting the stage for more to come. My thanks to all who have been a part of this year’s work in the division. The contributions from the “presidential stream” of Bret Kloos, and Susan McMahon have made the presiding duties comprehensible and doable. And a last thank you to the administrative team of Victoria Chien, Taylor Scott and more recently Rachel Storace. It has been a good and full year.