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Volume 53 Number 1 Winter 2020
Edited by Simón Coulombe, Wilfrid Laurier University
Written by Mason G. Haber, Harvard Medical School; Dawn Henderson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Simón Coulombe, Wilfrid Laurier University; and Laura Kohn-Wood, University of Miami
Recent discussions of the Council on Education (COE) – echoing similar recent discussions in SCRA as a whole – have focused on whether the Council and SCRA more broadly may be unintentionally excluding minority groups within the organization, especially with regard to race, ethnicity, cultural and national origin. These conversations were first initiated in the context of a review by SCRA members of a recently disseminated guide to community psychology (CP) training programs (https://www.scra27.org/what-we-do/education/academic-programs/), which seemed to lack representation from programs reflecting these dimensions of diversity. Directly related to the topic of this issue, some of this discussion focused on whether the guide failed to include education and training opportunities available at Minority-serving institutions, especially HBCUs. Failing to represent these opportunities appropriately in efforts to promote CP education such as the brochure would clearly be a detriment to the field in terms of missed opportunities for contributions from these institutions, whose interests and values tend to be well aligned with those of SCRA. Even more importantly, such exclusion would be directly at odds with core values of CP and SCRA of diversity and social justice, undermining through our own institutional practice efforts to champion these values in working with communities, especially with community members of color.
In this issue, the Education Connection reflects on the extent to which the COE and SCRA appear to be making sufficient efforts to live up to our diversity and social justice values with regard to race, and if not, what we can do to remedy the situation. We hope these reflections help to initiate a broader dialogue in SCRA about this important question. Our first section focuses on whether the strategies that SCRA is currently using toward the priorities of interest to the COE are consistent with diversity and social justice values as they intersect with race. In examining this question, we first critically review how diversity and social justice are currently represented in the SCRA strategic plan. Following this, we summarize findings of a recent report by SCRA member Dr. Dawn Henderson, on the ways in which SCRA could promote education and training in Minority-serving Institutions (MSIs) – including HBCUs and Hispanic serving institutions (Henderson, 2017). We end this section by reflecting on the extent to which issues of racial justice are or are not being addressed in the COE’s work. The second section considers possible barriers that might explain a lack of alignment between our diversity and social justice values in regard to race and the education promotion strategies we have been using in the COE and in SCRA to promote the field. We then close by considering some next steps to address the issues rising from our reflections.
Organizations of all kinds focus resources on their priorities – areas that are seen as essential to their survival and growth and to achieving their mission and vision. Typically, these priorities include increasing and better engaging individuals and programs. The more numerous and engaged the membership, the more resources are available to contribute to other priorities. However, increasing resources alone will not necessarily lead to achieving an organization’s mission and vision. For these to be achieved, resources need to be deployed in a manner that is consistent with an organization’s values. The values provide the bedrock for the organizational enterprise – the mission and vision cannot be understood (much less achieved) without them.
SCRA’s strategic plan includes both individual-level (“Membership”) and program-level (“Educational Programs”) priorities (https://www.scra27.org/who-we-are/scra-strategic-plan/). Several objectives are listed for each level, which to some extent parallel one another. Table 1, below, identifies objectives by common theme. Briefly, each priority contains objectives focusing on improving capacity, increasing participation, increasing opportunities for participation, and enhancing benefits of these opportunities. But is the manner in which SCRA is focusing its resources toward these priorities consistent with its diversity and social justice values, especially with regard to racial justice?
The strategic plan references diversity and social justice as two of the seven “SCRA Values” that provide the plan’s foundation (Figure 1). These values appear again in the Vision, at least implicitly – social justice is explicitly referenced, and “fostering collaboration where there is division and empowerment where there is oppression” would seem to connote inclusion of diversity.
What appears to be missing in the Strategic Plan material available on the SCRA website is how the organization gets from A to B, as the values seem to stand alone and do not connect explicitly to objectives related to membership or educational programs. As shown in Table 1, none of the objectives related to membership or educational programs focus on diversity or social justice. In fact, by omitting these values in this context, the objectives appear to be at odds with diversity and social justice values. One might ask, increase participation, opportunities, value, and the capacity to support these for whom?
It would not necessarily have been difficult to attend to this question in the Membership and Education Program objectives. For example, a possible re-write of Objective 4.2 (under the Education Priority) might be: “Increase the number of undergraduate and graduate students, especially those who self-identify as a member of a historically oppressed and marginalized community who learn about, engage with, and join the field of community psychology.” This example of a potential re-write acknowledges a need for better representation and inclusion of individuals from these communities. Naturally, appropriate resources would need to follow for such a reframed objective to be achieved.
Training in CP, whether at the graduate or undergraduate level, requires exposure and engagement with the field. Perceived barriers that limit engagement in SCRA can influence whether individuals from these institutions see SCRA as an organization of value for them. A facilitated roundtable at the 2017 Biennial and a survey administered to SCRA members sought to understand barriers to engagement among members affiliated with HBCUs and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). The report on these activities (Henderson, 2017) revealed practical barriers such as a lack of funding or schedule flexibility prevents members from attending SCRA events such as the Biennial, as well as perceptions of more subtle types of lack of inclusivity. With regard to practical barriers, the survey found that conflict with work and school priorities (44%) is the primary barrier to attending a SCRA regional or biennial conference.
Another finding from the survey indicated that financial challenges (27%) are one of the top barriers to attending conferences for those who identified as faculty, administrators, and students. Related to these challenges, survey respondents and session participants indicated that the small size or focus on undergraduates in programs at HBCUs and HSIs excluded them from some types of support from SCRA that are focused on graduate training. These types of barriers were identified alongside perceptions of a lack of interest in engaging students from HBCUs and HSIs in SCRA, and a perceived lack of intentional outreach by SCRA to HBCUs and HSIs. In general, findings suggest that key activities for creating a sense of community in SCRA are inaccessible for a substantial proportion of its members at HBCUs and HBIs. In turn, failing to create opportunities to engage with the SCRA community, along with the lack of intentional outreach to HBCUs and HSIs, may be contributing to the sense of not being valued that was expressed by some participants.
The topic of promoting ethnic and cultural diversity institutionally in SCRA has come up recently in the COE in multiple ways. First, when some of our COE members were reviewing a new brochure on CP programs a little over a month ago, just prior to its posting on the SCRA website, we noted that certain HBCUs as well as international programs seemed to be missing. We looked back at records used to contact programs to collect information for the brochure and found that some of the programs were not included because they did not respond, although there were still a number of others that were simply not on the list. Apparently, some of these programs had been added to the COE website at one point, but then not included in the brochure.
In reviewing websites for programs not included in the brochure during a recent COE meeting, members were impressed with both the thoroughness and distinctiveness of the curriculum of some programs like the Florida A & M training in CP with a black psychology and multicultural mental health emphasis. We all seemed to agree that any exclusion of training programs was an unfortunate mistake that should have been avoided. In other cases, HBCU-based training programs may not have been included in the brochure due to being delivered through individual courses rather than programs.
Regardless of what happens in the specific cases of the programs identified as having been omitted, the lack of representation of HBCUs in the current version of the brochure indicates a need for SCRA to find ways to more consistently recognize CP training at HBCUs and other institutions that are international or serve majority racially and ethnically diverse populations. In follow-up conversation online about this issue, a suggestion was made to conduct outreach to HBCUs and HSIs such as sending representatives to “Psychology Research Days” or other such forums at those institutions to introduce their students to SCRA and to CP (notably, this suggestion had also been made previously, in Henderson’s 2017 report to SCRA).
The issue of promoting diversity more generally was raised during the pre-conference “Clarifying out Vision” that the COE hosted at the 2019 SCRA Biennial. The pre-conference, attended by 25 program directors and representatives, faculty, and students, was designed to help identify strategies for the COE, SCRA and broader field to promote the sustainability, growth, and vitality of CP education and training. Through a series of goal setting and planning activities, we established an initial action plan organized by five broad themes. Diversity was included as part of one of these (the theme was entitled “Diversity/Identity”). Although we might have liked diversity to be more prominent – its own theme – we ended up collapsing diversity with a broader range of identity-related issues due to the fact that there were relatively few, concrete, practical suggestions from our group on how to increase ethnic and racial diversity among students, faculty and practitioners in the CP field.
Given, we covered a broad range of topics – and so we were limited in the extent to which any one type of issue could be considered in depth during the event. Still, the lack of specific suggestions for promoting diversity was somewhat surprising. During the event, working in small groups, participants developed a list of goal statements for the COE related to each theme. They were then asked to rate for each theme the importance and feasibility of each goal statement. Figure 2 shows the frequency of identification of any, important, and feasible goal statements by theme (Diversity and Identity thematic content are disaggregated for purposes of illustration). Notably, almost all the suggestions related to diversity were rated as “important” by participants; however, only a minority of these were rated by participants as “feasible.” Also, only one of the suggested goal statements explicitly addressed racial diversity (“Increasing racial diversity of students and faculty”).
At minimum, it should be clear based on our discussion to this point that racial diversity and justice could – and should – be higher priorities. As previously asserted, organizations will direct resources to those priorities they see as essential to their survival, mission, and vision. Identifying that issues exist is important, but to be successful, efforts to address racial diversity in SCRA require committing to specific strategies. Certain recommendations have been made but not implemented (e.g., Henderson, 2017). For this to happen, we need to consider a question that is seldom posed in these discussions because of its sensitivity – in a word, why. There are many reasons why an issue may fail to be given adequate priority by an organization; some are resource-related, but not all. As a starting point for discussing the “why,” question, we would like to propose three possible reasons in turn.
Although there appears to be relatively little focused discussion of concrete actions to improve racial and other diversity in SCRA generally, outside of specific contexts (e.g., the Council on Ethnic and Racial Affairs [CERA]: http://www.scra27.org/who-we-are/committees-and-interest-groups/cultural-ethnic-and-racial-affairs/), and still less on how to do so systematically, some specific strategies have been suggested that are worthy of further consideration. We suspect based on the considerations raised in this article that none of these ideas will have an enduring impact if pursued in isolated ways rather than through a sustainable, systematic strategy receiving support from the organization as a whole. The discussion of how to arrive at such a strategy involves recognizing the extent and complexity of the problem – which we hope this piece has begun to do – and the barriers that interfere with responding to it, particularly barriers that can be difficult to acknowledge. Clearly, the idea that there could be a tension between CP’s sustainability and diversity efforts is a potentially uncomfortable and controversial one. This possibility, however, needs to be considered, its validity and specific manifestations identified, and where identified, the tension needs to be addressed. Because efforts to achieve greater diversity may compete (or be perceived to compete) with sustainability goals, they also cannot be considered in isolation, but rather should be discussed in the broader context of the SCRA’s overall priorities, strategies, and resources.
As a starting point, we would like to suggest the following types of actions as critical to systematic, intentional, sustained efforts to improve racial and ethnic diversity in the organization. These are deliberately process-oriented, and need to be further developed through participatory discussion, informed by diverse perspectives, and the best available theory and data – in short, the best of what our field may have to offer.
We are extremely interested in reactions to this article. We know that there much work to do and that ample guidance is needed to do it. If you would like to help us advance our discussion, please let us know, either by participating in our regularly scheduled meetings (publicized on the listserve), or by emailing the corresponding author. We welcome your collaboration in finding the best forums and methods for making such discussions successful
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Henderson, D.X. (2017). Forging pathways for community psychology at Historically Black/Hispanic-serving institutions. Report to the Society for Community Research and Action.
Liu, W. M., Liu, R. Z., Garrison, Y. L., Kim, J. Y. C., Chan, L., Ho, Y., & Yeung, C. W. (2019). Racial trauma, microaggressions, and becoming racially innocuous: The role of acculturation and White supremacist ideology. American Psychologist, 74, 143.
Mason G. Haber, firstname.lastname@example.org