Volume 54, Number 4 Fall 2021

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Rural Interest Group

Edited by Suzanne M. Phillips, White Mountains Community College, NH; Susana Helm (out-going 2021), Univ. of Hawai`i at Mānoa

Rural IG Co-Chairs:  Suzanne Phillips, PhD and Melisa Cianfrini, PhD

The Rural IG column of The Community Psychologist highlights rural resources as well as the work of community psychologists and allied professionals in their rural environments. We invite submissions from Rural IG members, from people who present on rural topics during SCRA biennial and other conferences; and from leading and emergent rural scholars. Please refer your colleagues and friends in academia and beyond to our interest group and column. Please email if you would like to submit a brief report or if you have resources we may list here. 

Mahalo to Suzanne Phillips, one of the Rural IG co-chairs and new column editor, for the following summary of the rural representation at the 2021 virtual SCRA biennial for this issue of The Community Psychologist.

BRIEF REPORT: Rural Community. A View from the Mountains 

Suzanne M. Phillips, White Mountains Community College, New Hampshire, USA


Rural community psychology was abundantly represented throughout the first day of the 2021 SCRA Biennial.  On Tuesday, June 22, attendees were transported to rural areas throughout the Western Hemisphere, first north, then south, and then far to the north.  I do not know whether this collection of rural-themed presentations was intentional, but it provided an interesting package for people who care about rural issues.

Immediately following the Presidential Address that opened the conference on Tuesday, the Rural Interest Group sponsored a round-table discussion of community health needs assessments (CHNAs; Summers-Gabr, Phillips, Cianfrini, & Helm, 2021; forthcoming Rural column), focusing on their potential to address inequities in rural health care.  For those not familiar, CHNAs are required every three years under the U.S. Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “Obama Care,” for hospitals to maintain nonprofit status; based on the findings of the CHNA, hospitals must create and implement a plan to meet important community health needs.  I am pleased to report that we had an authentic discussion: within 15 minutes, we had moved through a presentation of the basics, and the nine of us around the virtual table settled into a stimulating conversation. We talked about fostering meaningful community involvement in the CHNA itself, the IRB approval process for this sort of research, and how community psychologists come to work with hospitals completing the assessments.  I learned about the role of community health departments in local government, that the Affordable Care Act doesn’t require community input on the implementation plan (just on the CHNA), that hospitals don’t have a widely shared system for collecting demographic data (race/ethnicity categories vary widely - why don’t we ask for this information in an open-ended way?), and even that there are rural areas in New Jersey.  I am grateful to all who attended and shared their experiences.  A special thanks to Nicole Summer-Gabr for taking the lead on this session.

The fast-paced “Ignite” presentations may be my favorite Biennial format.  I was pleased that the Ignite session held just after the CHNA roundtable included a rural-focused entry on “Social Cohesion in Semi-Rural Chile” (Munoz-Proto, Ringeling, Costa, & Sarmiento, 2021).  Through the terrific real-time translation services offered by the conference organizers, I learned about the rich, inclusive way the authors seek to understand the meaning of “Good Living” and the value they place on “Community Diagnosis”/Participatory Action Research.  I look forward to hearing the results of their research and learning more about Chile’s rural communities. 

Each day throughout the Biennial, the pace slowed in the afternoon, providing time for networking and relaxation.  Fittingly (given all the rural-related programming on this day), two significant Interest Group (IG) Business Meetings were held on Tuesday afternoon: Indigenous IG and Rural IG.  These two meetings were originally scheduled for the same time, but knowing that we have members (and interests) in common, we shifted the Rural IG meeting later in the day so that interested people could attend both.  Our SCRA Executive Director, Amber Kelly, dropped into the IG meetings and challenged us to think about the role of the IGs in new ways – so stay tuned for some changes!

When the pace of the Biennial picked up again late Tuesday afternoon, the symposium “Dismantling Ongoing Misunderstandings and Myths About Racism and Its Impact” (Palmer, 2021) continued the day’s tour of the Americas with the paper, “’It’s Kind of Like Casting for a Fish’: Tele-mental Health Acceptability, Barriers, and Provider Recommendations in a Rural and Remote Aleutian Islands Community” (Marvin, 2021).  This qualitative-interview-based research underscored the value of careful listening, of working with populations over the long term, and of recognizing the ongoing impact of historical trauma.  The presentation introduced me to the term “negative system transference,” providing a linguistic container for a collection of ideas and experiences that I have found difficult to articulate.  As I understand it, negative system transference occurs when my responses to System A (e.g. my son’s elementary school) are informed more by my prior experience with System B (my own elementary school experience) than by my current experience of System A.  

Rural-related presentations happened throughout the Biennial, of course.  Perhaps the most important for me was a symposium on Friday: “From the Ground Up: Community Empowerment for Climate and Sustainability Justice” (Reimer-Watts, 2021).  Hosted by the Environmental Justice Interest Group, and with strong representation from Wilfrid Laurier University, this symposium wove together themes of social class, the arts, rurality, social change, and the role of children and young people in climate justice.  Officially, I was the “Room Monitor” for this session’s Zoom Room (meant to focus on supporting the session technically and logistically), but the papers presented were so interesting that I couldn’t resist joining the conversation.  (This tech-savvy team had the Zoom logistics under control, anyway.)  I am now fully on board with what my colleagues in the Rural IG have been saying for years: we need to reach out to the Environmental Justice IG to explore our overlapping interests.  

Reviewing what I have written here, the theme of making connections stands out: connections between ideas, connections with people, and connections among various parts of SCRA.  From each of us in the Rural IG, thank you to the dozens of people who worked so hard to pull together this virtual Biennial, creating a context to support productive discussion and new thinking.  I have often said that the SCRA Biennial is my favorite conference, and that continues to hold true.  While the packaging and delivery had to be different for 2021, I found the same good stuff inside when I opened the box.  

The author welcomes comments and the opportunity for further conversation.  She may be reached at


Marvin, A. (2021, June).  “It’s kind of like casting for a fish:” Tele-mental health acceptability, barriers, and provider recommendations in a rural and remote Aleutian Islands community.  In G. Palmer (Chair), Dismantling ongoing misunderstandings and myths about racism and its impact.  Symposium conducted at the 18th Biennial Meeting of the Society for Community Research and Action (virtual).  

Munoz-Proto, C., Ringeling, C., Costa, C., & Sarmiento, C. (2021, June).  Social cohesion in semi-rural Chile: A community diagnosis for Good Living. Paper presented at the 18th Biennial Meeting of the Society for Community Research and Action (virtual).  

Reimer-Watts, K. (2021, June).  From the ground up: Community empowerment for climate and sustainability justice.  Symposium conducted at the 18th Biennial Meeting of the Society for Community Research and Action (virtual).  

Summers-Gabr, N., Phillips, S. M., Cianfrini, M., & Helm, S. (2021, June).  Using Community Health Needs Assessments to address rural health equity.  Roundtable discussion held at the 18th Biennial Meeting of the Society for Community Research and Action (virtual).