Involving the Community in Research and Policy Analysis/Change

By Jenn Zheng

 

Social change requires the voice of the people from the community that is being changed. When community psychologists and/or those against social injustice try to go against the status-quo, one of the obstacles faced is their own blind spots (Nelson & Prilletensky, 2010). There is a need to be reflexively aware at all times of their values, experiences, and power. This is why the community members of the group that is targeted for social change needs to be involved. The community members need to be involved in the research, in participatory action research where they are not only participants, but have a role as co-researchers (Lykes, 2017). Policy change and analysis also needs to work with groups that will be impacted by these change or lack of change (Nelson, 2013).  

It is important to include the community that faces social injustices in the research portion of social change. They should be given the resources to use their voice and participate in the research as well as be coresearchers. These coresearchers can identify the problem and know what to focus on with their situated knowledge in a way outsider cannot. They can interpret data and know the most applicable questions to ask from a subjugated standpoint. Researchers must not only acknowledge, but enhance the local knowledge and capacity of the community members. 

To have transformative change, for it to be effective, the power dynamics of a community that defines the social roles needs to be assessed and taken into consideration. There also needs to be awareness that there is not a binary way of looking at power, the powerful and the powerless. Power is complicated and fragmented, groups that appear powerless can use their power in discrete or partial ways (Campbell, 2014). The idea is that power dynamics of a community needs to be accounted for when trying to create social change, however, it is also important to realize that it is not just the powerless versus the powerful. There needs to be acknowledgement that groups that are perceived as powerless do have power and should be empowered to created social change. They should be involved in the research and the policy change to create positive social change. 

The first step in understanding the politics of change is to be able to see the world in terms of what we would like it to be, not just what it is (Alinksky, 1989). Discursive approaches to analyzing policy pays attention to values, politics, and language (Nelson, 2013). This approach does not view social problems and solutions as “objective” phenomena, but considers the role of power in analyzing politics and policy. Policy change is also based on the presentation and selection of evidence. That is why it is important to involve community members that are impacted by these policies. They know the values and the political context of how these policies will impact their community. It is as crucial to involve the community members is the shaping of the problem definition. With the help of community members, the problem definition will more likely shift away from defining it in terms of individual deficits. This step is important because how the problem is framed is how the problem is solved.  

Often times people in marginalized groups do not get a say in research that involves them or policy change that impacts their community. By involving those members in research work, it gives a fair and reliable representation of data. Involving those members in policy change and analysis allows for an interpretation and feedback with situated knowledge. This involvement is important to counteract the blind spots that researchers and policy makers from privileged standpoints might have. This also allows for the empowerment of members of marginalized groups and give them voices and resources to create change.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference: 

Alinsky, S. D. (1989). Rules for radicals: A practical primer for realistic radicals. Random House Digital, Inc.: Purpose (pp. 1-23); Tactics (pp. 125- 164) 

Campbell, C. (2014). Community mobilisation in the 21st century: Updating our theory of social change? Journal of Health Psychology, 19(1), 46-59.  

Lykes, M.B. (2017). Community-based and participatory action research: Community psychology collaborations within and across borders. In M. A. Bond, I. Serrano-García, & C. B. Keys (Eds), APA Handbook of Community Psychology: Vol. 2. Methods for community research and action for diverse groups and issues, (pp.43-58). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 

Nelson, G. (2013). Community psychology and transformative policy change in the neo-liberal era. American Journal of Community Psychology, 52(3-4), 211-223. 

Nelson, G., & Prilleltensky, I. (Eds.). (2010). Community psychology: Journeys in the global context. In Community psychology: In pursuit of liberation and well-being (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Macmillan International Higher Education. (Textbook: Read Chapter 7 – Overview of community psychology interventions)   

Oppression Among African Americans

 By Destiny Jones

Lack of power, lack of privilege, and inequality are all characteristics of oppression. Oppression impacts the realities of individuals’ daily lives, and as many may think that it is invisible, it is very obvious and noticeable to those who experience it. According to Deutsch (2006), oppression is defined as the experience of repeated, widespread, systemic injustice, that takes on many forms. Not only has oppression impacted my experiences and daily life moments, but it also a concept within community psychology that has transformed my understanding on injustice and its impact on African American communities. While oppression takes many forms within African American communities, this post focuses on moral exclusion, cultural imperialism, and retributive injustice and their impacts on the lives of African Americans.   

Moral exclusion focuses on who is and is not entitled to fair outcomes and fair treatment based on an individual’s moral community and is considered the most dangerous form of oppression (Deustch, 2006; Young, 1990).  For African Americans, being morally excluded creates barriers that hinder communities from advancing, whether it is in political, economic, or personal realms. One example of how moral exclusion negatively impacted the lives of African Americans was during the Great Depression. African Americans suffered the most, as they were forced to leave unskilled jobs that they were initially disdained for by Whites before the depression began (Sustar, 2012). Furthermore, African Americans were faced with 50% of unemployed workers in comparison to 30% of unemployed workers for Whites. Furthermore, during this time, African Americans were also excluded from union membership (Great Depression and the New Deal Reference Library, 2002). This moral exclusion led to lack of resources, financials struggles, hardships, and negative health outcomes for many African American families.  

Another form of oppression faced by African American communities is cultural imperialism. Cultural imperialism establishes the dominant (in this case white) group’s experience and culture as the norm and standard way of life (Young, 1990, p. 59). Cultural imperialism creates a pressure to conform and internalize the dominant group’s images as aspirations for one’s own racial group. Cultural imperialism dates back to the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, in which African Americans were forced to migrate to the United States and acculturate the dominant culture. Colonizers dismissed the culture and norms of Africans brought over as slaves, forcing them to adapt to new norms, some of which are evident today. In addition, many Africans were forced to practice Christianity, since it was the dominant religion within the country (Raboteau,1992).  Cultural imperialism thus forces African Americans to live up the dominant culture and the images that are forced upon the community. This suggests that privilege and power allow one to create the standard norm while ignoring others’ cultures, experiences, and traditions. Furthermore, cultural imperialism gives insight as to how power and privilege also allows the dominant community to create these everlasting images of communities even though these images are false representations or have negative impacts on a particular group.  

Retributive injustice is a form of oppression that focuses on the attitudes and the behavior of individuals, especially those in authority, in regard to moral rule breaking (Deustch, 2006). Retributive injustice is seen within the arena of crime among the African American communities. It is evident that when it comes to crimes, African Americans receive the worse punishment. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, African American men who commit the same crime as white men receive prison sentences that are 20% longer than white men’s sentences. This disparity falls upon the judges as they make their sentencing choices at their own discretion (Ingraham, 2017). Furthermore, judges are not likely to voluntarily decrease sentences for African American men, and if so, they may do so in small increments (Ingraham, 2017). Another example of retributive injustice among African Americans is through arrests for marijuana possession. According to Staff (2018), ninety-three percent of people who were arrested for marijuana possession in between January and March within New York City were people of color. Out of the 4,081 arrests for marijuana, only 287 of those arrested were white people, while 2,006 African Americans were arrested for the same crime. This form of retributive injustice is embedded and ingrained within the system, leaving African Americans to endure even more hardships and struggles.  

While it is important to identify how these forms of oppression impact the realities of African American communities, it is also important to engage in meaningful processes that to overcome oppression and systemic injustice. According to Watts and Serrano-Garcia (2003), a critical consciousness is needed to overcome oppression. Critical consciousness allows those of the oppressed group to deconstruct existing ideologies and foundations and develop a perspective of liberation and equality (Watts & Serrano-Garcia, 2003). Critical consciousness involves expansion of knowledge, skills, and faculties that gives the oppressed the ability to move forward toward an effective live. Another key tool to overcome oppression is empowerment. Empowerment can be thought of as a gateway to self-efficacy, self-confidence, and control over one’s life and settings (Watts & Serrano-Garcia, 2003). Empowerment will not only contribute to self-worth and integrity of African American people, but it will also give the community the control to engage in communal acts that are beneficial for the culture and the future of the community. With the force of, African American communities will advance forward with life even though there are still oppressive forces that are against the community. Even as oppression and its many forms plays a role within African American communities, there are possibilities embedded in empowerment and critical consciousness raising.  

 

References 

Beauboeuf,-Lafontant, T. (2007). You have to show strength: An exploration of gender, race, and depression. Gender and Society, 21(1), pp. 28-51 

Cochran, D. L., Brown, D. R., McGregor, K. C. (199). Racial differences in the multiple social roles of older women: Implications for depressive symptoms. The Gerontological Society of America, 39(4), pp. 465-472. 

Deutsch, M. (2006). A framework for thinking about oppression. Social Justice Research, 19(1), pp. 1-41 

Ingraham, C. (2017). Black Men Sentenced to More Time for Committing the Exact Same Crime As a White Person. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/11/16/black-men-sentenced-to-more-time-for-committing-the-exact-same-crime-as-a-white-person-study-finds/?utm_term=.a99e19e9dc61 

Raboteau, A. J. (1992). The secret religion of slaves. Christianity & the Civil War, 33,  

Staff, I. (2018). Racial Disparities Evident in New York City Arrest Data for Marijuana Possession .Innocence Project. Retrieved from https://www.innocenceproject.org/racial-disparities-in-nyc-arrest-data-marijuana-possession/ 

Sustar, L. (2012). Blacks and the Great Depression. International Socialist Organization. Retrieved from https://socialistworker.org/2012/06/28/blacks-and-the-great-depression 

Watson-Singelton, N. N. (2017). Strong black woman schema and psychological distress: The mediating role of perceived emotional support. Journal of Black Psychology, 43 (8), pp. 778-788 

Watts, R. J. & Serrano-Garcia, I. (2003). The quest for a liberating community psychology: An overview. American Journal of Community Psychology, 31(1), pp.73-78 

Young, M. I. (1990). Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.  

Examining the #metoo Movement Through Paradigms of Social Change

By Jessica Grant

 In Paolo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 1970) and Education for Critical Consciousness (Freire, 1973) he explores the multidimensional nature of oppression and conditions by which social action can thrive. Freire analyzes the complex interactions between oppressor and oppressed while holding in tension the possibility and hope of collective action despite abysmal conditions. This was due in part to the centering of marginalised groups as change agents and the belief that they held the keys to societal and cultural transformation. In the following essay, I would like to examine the timeline and inception of the #metoo movement through the lense of social change and collective action. Did the movement utilize transformational or ameliorative interventions? What role did identities occupying spaces of power play in the movement’s wide spreading? Lastly, does this movement present unexplored tactics for social change? 

Despite the popularizing of the #Metoo hashtag by Alyssa Milano on Twitter in October 2017; the phrase was inspired by activist Tarana Burke. Burke – a Black Woman and survivor of sexual violence and founder of a girls empowerment non-profit  – started #metoo as a “bold declarative statement” (Santiago C, Criss D 2017) dismissing shame and a form of connection and solidarity amongst survivors. For eleven years, Burke led her organization, traveled to events and served as an outspoken activist addressing sexual violence targeted towards women. Despite the decade of behind-the-scenes work done by Tarana Burke; she admitted that the virality of ‘Me too’ has allowed for the creation of an “entry point to healing” (Santiago C, Criss D 2017) for many survivors. The dialectic nature of #metoo’s popularity opened the door for stories and solidarity amongst survivors, but is it doing the work to change the way society views sexual violence or gender-based violence?  

This question highlights another tension existing within this movement: how can progress be measured? While it is still too early to tell, the charge of any one movement or activist to be the sole changemaker adheres to the widely criticized notion of linear change. In Catherine Campbell’s paper “Community mobilisation in the 21st century: Updating our theory of social change?”; (Campbell 2014) she prods at the notion that change must occur in succinct phases. By believing that change toward a hopeful and “progressive” (Campbell 2014) future is inevitable, it undermines the multitude of resistance faced by identities within the margins. It even suggests that their position within societal margins are a facet of an overwhelmingly positive and progressive process. I believe that this notion of change additionally places invariable pressure upon leaders of social movements and suggests that a failure on their part decreases the validity of their cause. In Reinhart Koselleck’s book, “Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time” he rejects the notion that “history” has been marching humankind “in the direction of progress and freedom” and emphasizes that “every space of human interaction is the product of ‘interrelations of multiplicity, difference and plurality” (Koselleck 1985). This leaves us with the deliberate job of analyzing the #metoo movement as a light amongst darkness but not one existing in a vacuum instead one with deep historical complexity.  

In agreement with Catherine Campbell’s paper, the #Metoo movement poses as a helpful example of the one of the new “burgeoning global protest movements” that fuses historical perspectives of change with developing ones (Campbell 2014). The paper illuminates various examples and stages of Community Mobilisation; but highlights the need for a CM that has a “critical or political emphasis”(Campbell 2014). It is this critical CM that is grounded in the “belief” that efforts to decrease inequality must “promote the capacity of the powerless to demand their rights to health, and develop social environments where the powerful are likely to heed their demands”(Campbell 2014). Similarly, rumblings of the #metoo movement had begun nearly a decade back but had only come to a socially visible and pressuring entity within the past year. Perhaps, the movement was able to come to this critical point because the years prior were spent developing the social environment that would catalyze change. Freire asserts that in addition to this “critical or political” grounding supported by Campbell; CM also must involve dialogue and critical thinking by the marginalized group with the inclusion of an external change agent (Freire 1970,1973). In this particular movement, I believe that the celebrities and Women holding locations of power assisted in the momentum and visibility given to the issues of sexual violence.  

It is hard to say whether the involvement of Alyssa Milano and other positively regarded celebrities aided in the overall push to destabilize the patriarchal structures that promoted such violence or transferred visibility to White, cis and economically privileged women – perhaps both. Milano’s tweet and involvement brought an air of legitimacy to the movement that sparked a global response amongst thousands of survivors. In Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for radicals: A practical primer for realistic radicals”; he notes the difficulty of creating social change in a way that uplifts those on the margins while not ignoring the world as it is (Alinsky 1989). He controversially argues that in order to transform the world into what we desire, “we must first see the world as it is and not as we would like it to be” (Alinsky 1989). Through this knowledge we can see how despite the complex origins of the movement, it’s recent visibility can be partially credited to the involvement of high-profile persons. 

According to Metoorising – a platform created to by Google Trends data to create a visualization of interest in “MeToo” overtime – interest and participation reached hundreds of cities throughout 2017. This high number not only reflects the pervasiveness of sexual violence worldwide but the redefinition of solidarity in present-day social change movements. Although #Metoo is not the first social movement to utilize social media as a launching point for dialogue; it’s popularity merely reflected a deep-seeded discontentment with prevailing power dynamics. Therefore, I believe that through personal storytelling and collective outcry the movement is operating in a transformative intervention space.  

Exhausted with the problematic rhetoric of victim blaming many survivors utilized the hashtag as an opportunity to additionally explain the problem with viewing sexual violence as the fault of the victim. In doing so, they pointed toward the need for systemic change in addition to personal accountability for predators. According to Nelson & Prilleltensky’s definition for ameliorative and transformative interventions; #metoo aligned with the second-order change of transformative by involving “community process” and focusing on the unequal patriarchal power dynamic (Nelson, G, Prilleltensky, I 2010). This appetite for transformational change has sparked adjacent movements calling for systemic and industrial change. Founded in January 2018, TIME’S UP ™ is a movement against sexual harassment and created in direct response to “the Weinstein effect and #Metoo”. In addition to the accepting donations for its legal defense fund and advocating for the everyday rights of women; they aim to address the “systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace” while shifting the cultural “paradigm”. This comprehensive organization represents one of the positive ripple effects of #Metoo’s sense of solidarity and collective agency.  

While it is hard to analyze the short and long-term effects of a movement without significant hindsight, I would project that #metoo movement could have lasting impact in the fight against sexual violence. The movement highlights our cultural tension of desiring power dynamic shifts while also valuing the voices of persons occupying identities of power and sidelining those within the margins. It emphasizes Freire’s point about the strength of solidarity through collective dialogue and introduces social media as a potential catalyzing “external change agent” (Freire 1970, 1973). The fight for justice is far from over and not necessarily confined to the linear progression we may assume, but the success and disruption of the #Metoo movement provides us with a hopeful glimpse into the future.  

References 

 

Alinsky, S. D. (1989). Rules for radicals: A practical primer for realistic radicals. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House. 

 

Freire, P. (2014). Education for critical consciousness. London: Bloomsbury Academic. 

 

Freire, P. (2018). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Burnaby, B.C.: Simon Fraser University Library. 

 

Home. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.timesupnow.com/home#ourmission-anchor 

 

Koselleck, R. (1985). Futures past: On the semantics of historical times. Cambridge, MA: MIT  Press. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://metoorising.withgoogle.com/ 

 

Nelson, G. B., & Prilleltensky, I. (2010). Community psychology: In pursuit of liberation and   well-being. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. 

 

Santiago, C., & Criss, D. (2017, October 17). An activist, a little girl and the heartbreaking origin of    ‘Me too’.  

 

 

 

Exploring Decolonization within Puerto Rican Culture

by Nicole Cruz-Merced 

Growing up in Puerto Rico, an island that is the product of colonialism, the topic of colonialism is not spoken about as much as it should be amongst us Puerto Ricans. For some, colonialism brings on feelings of anger and shame. On the opposite side of it, there are people in Puerto Rico that look at colonialism within the island as a saving grace. Puerto Rico is often divided between those who seek independence and those who seek statehood to the United States. This divide is symbolic of the effects colonialism has had on the identity and mentality of Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans have not been freed from colonialism since Spain came to the island and wiped out the indigenous Taíno people. African slaves were brought into the island by the Spanish and soon after the Spanish-American War, the United States took control. The reign of the United States over Puerto Rico is a dark a history that is not talked about in history classes in the United States. The United States colonized Puerto Rico, enslaving Puerto Ricans, forcing them to work in sugar companies that put the island in poverty; they were made citizens with the expressed purpose of having them serve as troops in the war. To this day, Puerto Ricans are caught up in coloniality, our identities being tied to colonialism and our island being dominated by U.S. investors.

In “(De) colonizing Culture in Community Psychology: Reflections from Critical Social Science,” Mariolga Reyes Cruz and Christopher C. Sonn (2011) explore a decolonizing standpoint. The decolonizing standpoint is often taken up by Puerto Ricans that are considered “radical” for their beliefs in independence and moving away from the colonizer mentality so deeply embedded in the Puerto Rican culture. To be able to discuss this standpoint in academia, safely, has allowed me to gain more insight on what colonialism means to those of different cultures including mine. This standpoint is very important, as it allows a new way of viewing ways that power and oppression are reproduced. The authors claim that the “complexity of culture stems from the continuing legacy of coloniality in the social sciences (Psychology included)” (Cruz & Sonn, 2010). This claim resonated with me as I have always felt that when culture is discussed it is often from a Western perspective; this history of culture, especially those of marginalized groups, often have some justification for the actions of oppression and an avoidance of the notion that oppression is related to power. This dominance of Western thought creates a hierarchy of difference, such as White/Other, which serves to benefit the ruling class. This type of thought/ideology can be seen much more now in Puerto Rico when it comes to race and culture. Back in Puerto Rico, the lighter your complexion, the better you are treated. Although it is assumed you are Puerto Rican, it is not uncommon to be given better treatment for having a lighter complexion. Those with darker complexions are often perceived as “the other” and they typically fall under the Afroboriqua1. This type of divide within the people of Puerto Rico further fuels the colonial mentality, as people with lighter complexions identify more strongly with the United States and deny their Puerto Rican identity for the sake of assimilation. As stated previously, Puerto Ricans are divided between those who want to be independent and freed from colonialism and those who want to accept colonialism through statehood. Those who seem to accept colonialism and statehood are mainly of white complexion and those who reject colonialism are mainly of a darker complexion or from an indigenous family. This type of White and “the other” becomes a reality for Puerto Ricans, as those with a whiter complexion start to view themselves as ruling class. This type of ideology can be traced back to when the United States granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans. Since then, Puerto Ricans who do not leave to the United States are seen as “the others” further embedding this colonial mentality in our culture.

The decolonization standpoint has implications for addressing the colonial mentality. . As stated in the article, “Decolonizing culture requires actively deconstructing notions of the other based on the enduring legacy of colonial relations, beginning to understand the meaning of difference, its micro-politics as well as its sociological/historical/ economic/political context…” (Cruz & Sonn, 2010, p.206). Part of the issue in Puerto Rico is that the notion of “the other” has not yet been deconstructed as colonial relations still remain in our culture. It is difficult to separate colonial relations from our culture when it has been embedded in our culture for so long. To this day, our history is taught through the lens of those who have colonized us. Viewing Puerto Rican culture from a decolonization standpoint, helps understand the culture from a historical, social, political, and economic awareness.  This standpoint also helps avoid victim blaming Puerto Rico when speaking about the issues occurring in the island. It is very common for people to blame Puerto Ricans for the consequences of oppression they did not start.  When hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico, the discourse around the tragedy severely victim-blamed the people of Puerto Rico. There was very little effort to try and understand the conditions of the island. Very little effort to look into the political state of the island and why there was no money or resources to help the people in the island. Instead of trying to understand and support, the reaction of the United States was to blame us for not wanting to be a state. This type of victim blaming attitude is also seen within the government of Puerto Rico which is severely corrupt. The people put in place to serve the people often blame the people to justify their corruption in the island. It always leads to same outcome; poverty, struggle, and divide.

Another aspect of being Puerto Rican in the United States and living in Puerto Rico is our sense of identity. Often times, with our culture being so colonized, there is no sense of true identity. We also lose a sense of community which can have negative psychological effects on us. Referring back to the reading Sense of Community: Community Resilient Responses to Oppression and Change by Christopher C. Sonn and Adrian T. Fisher, oppressed communities are not associated with resilience (p.459). As stated before, Puerto Rican culture has lived through colonization for years and it can’t be expected that Puerto Ricans develop resilience to their oppression when they have not been given the resources and education to do so. This type of oppression within our culture can lead to self-hatred and can lead to deculturalization as mentioned in the article (Sonn & Fisher, p. 461). Becoming more aware of our socio-historical contexts as well as continuing to educate ourselves on our realties, can lead the way to decolonizing our mentalities. Resisting assimilation to the United States culture would also allow our culture to stand on its’ own. Puerto Ricans should look towards reclaiming their culture and history by seeking independence from the consequences of colonization. Educating ourselves and upcoming generations about our history is important but one must be cautious in living in that historical context. Remembering and speaking our truth within history is one of the stepping stones to create awareness however often times, individuals become the very issue they are trying to eradicate. Before anything, Puerto Ricans need to attempt as coming together as one culture and begin accepting that we can live both in Puerto Rico and the United States and still have our own identities. The path to independence will always be a long and complicated story with so many Puerto Ricans leaning towards statehood. However, for the benefit of those living in Puerto Rico and the United States, we must seek independence from the colonizer mentality and start looking beyond the consequences and issues our colonizers gave us.

Language of Diversity

by Sajeda Khalifa

In the article, The language of diversity, Sarah Ahmed (2007) asks a very important question, “what does diversity do?”  Ahmed uses the term “diversity” within the context of higher education, specifically diversity/equity aims and objectives that institutions commit to. These include but are not limited to collective efforts administrations (Ahmed, 2007). First, if I had to define what diversity should look like on a college or a university campus, I envision students from diverse ethnic backgrounds coming together from all over the world to learn not just about themselves or their career field, but to learn from one another and appreciate differences. To me, a college or a university is an institution that represents a microcosm of the world, where people can interact with one another, understand each other, and facilitate collaboration and cooperation.  Through this process, an individual can adapt to differences by having an exposure to other people’s perspectives, cultures, traditions, and practices to become an open-minded person.  An institution of higher education can be a place where students not just acquire knowledge from books, but also learn from first-hand experiences through direct interaction with different ways of being. Hence, welcoming and implementing diversity on a college campus means allowing new ideas, views, and practices to make our communities and societies more inclusive of one another, diminishing discrimination and violence from our biased ways of thinking, and coming to a mutual understanding, so that people can learn to respect differences and love one another.

As a College & Career Counselor, I work with the TRiO Upward Bound Program, which supports high school students to prepare for higher education.  My job is to assist our program participants in finding the right “college fit” where they can find the support to succeed through their four years of college journey after they graduate from high school.  When navigating their college search, I ask my first-generation college bound students from multi-ethnic backgrounds, as to what kind of college campus would make them feel welcomed? They often respond with  something along the lines of  “a college that welcomes people of color, where they feel they can belong.”

Understanding my students by putting myself in their shoes, this statement makes me reflect on my personal college experience. Being a minority who is an Asian Muslim female whose parents never attended college, I can relate to my students’ feelings of being intimidated; I, too, felt out of place, on a college campus during my college years. I attended and graduated from an institution of higher education that calls itself a “diverse” campus. It is true that students of all races, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic, and age, filled up the campus body.  The Institution did enroll diverse student bodies and staff.  To me, it seemed like the “ideal image” of what “diversity” should represent on a university campus. Looking at the institution from outside, it appeared to promote diversity through all their statements and policies. Furthermore, the institution provided Support Services, Ethnic Clubs, and course offerings that teach cultural perspectives;  professors appeared to be open-minded and accepting of differences. From outside, this institution seemed like a good fit for me.

However, once I immersed myself on campus, things were different. Although it was diverse, at times, I found myself frustrated by the lack of staff and student support from a cultural perspective (Ahmed, 2007).  Along with other students, I felt that the institution could have done a better job of creating more inclusive spaces for students of colors by hiring more faculty and staff that represented diverse student bodies and became mentors for students. I wished that clubs were more proactive on campus in engaging students in multi-cultural activities, and campuses to be more alive and vibrant by promoting cultural events that made students feel it embraced celebrating diversity by carrying it out in action. Throughout my college years, I never recall upper administration to have called for an open forum conversation inviting students of all colors to voice their opinions or concerns.  On reflection, I strongly believe that in order to cultivate a welcoming feeling on a university campus, it takes more than just giving “lip service” (Ahmed, 2007), but rather carry out the action through commitment. As Ahmed addresses in her article, “what commitment means still depends on how diversity circulates as a term within organizations.” (Ahmed, 2007).

When Ahmed asks us to think what “diversity in action” should look like, keeping my college experience in mind, I remind myself the importance of emphasizing and educating our students to reflect on what they want to get out of college experience.  Also, having a conversation about how our students can make a big change in transforming the campus, is through engaging themselves in making their voices heard, so that they can not only feel welcomed, but feel a sense of belonging by holding the institution accountable to their commitment to embracing diversity. If we want to truly welcome and appreciate diversity, all institutions, whether it is elementary or high schools, universities, or work industries, leaders running them need to play a role in providing a safe space for an individual to voice their concerns and meet their needs.  If students are not given the ‘safe space’ to voice their concern and allowing the opportunity to make the change, then equality of power will never change and will always remain social inequalities amongst people of color.  Therefore, it is critical that administrators in higher education consider racially marginalized voices to be heard and transform their institutions by rethinking and committing to how diversity should really look like on their campus, without just providing ‘lip service’ (Ahmed, 2007).

Black Lives Matter: A Positive Force to Transform the Societal Apparatus of the U.S 

By Juan M. Boungou 

The 1960s have been known as ‘‘the era of the turbulences’’ across the world, including in the United States of America. The social turbulence rose due to a strong desire of people to reframe the social and even political apparatus of American society. Many social movements such as LGBTQ rights movement, anti-Vietnam war protests, and the civil rights movements—which were led by the prominent figures like Revd. Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcom X—emerged during this time. All these movements shared a struggle against issues such as deprivation of human rights, inequality and systematic injustices or oppression. These movements advocated for what Albee (1999) calls “improving the social-environment experience” (p.10). The improvement of such an environment could not be possible or effective without what an ecological approach, which is a holistic and integrative step that avoids blaming the oppressed individual, but rather that understands the societal structures that maintains or perpetuates such an oppressive hold (Albee, 1999). More recently, U.S. society has witnessed the rise of a new civil rights movement: Black Lives Matter. Under what condition(s) has this movement emerged? What is its significance? In what ways is it a transformative force to solve social or community problems that U.S. society is confronted with? These questions are explored in this blogpost.  

Kelly (2006) observes that any society lives in conjunction with individual behaviors and attitudes. From this ecological perspective, Kelly (2006) argues that persons are affected by the social-environment as much as their social-environment affects their wellbeing (p.30). With reference to such an observation, it suggests or implies that Black Lives Matter was not created out of the blue. On August 9, 2014, an unarmed young African American man named Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The video of that shooting circulated on social media, which erupted into nationwide indignation, anger, frustration, and paved the way for the rise of Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter has the expressed purpose of campaigning against broader issues of racial discrimination, police brutality, and racial inequality against African American communities. In the midst of that ‘‘millennial’’ struggle, the movement has been organizing rallies and marches. During their rallies and marches, the movement has quoted the names of the victims killed, by the police officers. For most people, these victims have been viewed as the inspirational epicenter of such a movement. For example, last words uttered by Eric Garner before he was killed in 2014, ‘‘I can’t breathe’’ went on to become one of the important slogans during these rallies and marches. Years of dehumanizing experiences, were not amenable to a healthy social environment, give rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

As a movement, Black Lives Matter has been met with considerable resistance. This has taken several forms. For example, their tactics have been criticized. The movement has been accused of fomenting violence, such as burning cars or car tires and looting stores. Moreover, the movement has been accused of being ‘‘discriminatory’’ because “all lives matter.” The movement has also been considered as anti-police radicalism. People/groups who hold such a view also tend to criticize victims of police brutality, arguing that they did not comply with police interrogations or try to focus on “black on black crime.” These justifications of violence may be understood in terms of ‘‘culture-blaming action’’ Szalavitz (2018), whereby victims are not only held ‘‘responsible’’ but also called to justify their efforts to seek justice. Scholars such as Albee (1999) have observed that that evidence that bad or abusive experiences are hard to deny with respect to its long-term damaging consequences. In this context, the leaders of Black Lives Matter have framed their movement as a response to pervasive and systemic discrimination, which has denied the basic human rights and dignity to African American communities. These leaders have pinpointed abusive systems that violates human rights, which have persisted beyond desegregation. Specifically, systems such as criminal justice and law enforcement have never changed. To this day, African Americans, especially men, continue to be racially profiled as prone violence and confrontation.  

As the protests continued, one of the then-Democrat candidates, Bernie Sanders’ speeches was disrupted by some Black Lives Matter members in Seattle during the primary presidential elections in 2016, in an effort to get him to address the topic of racial inequality. This is an example of how the movement uses tactics such as putting pressure on politicians to drive change and gain a voice in the mainstream media. The question is how far the movement can go? How does the movement seek to achieve the social change that it has been fighting for? At what costs? Or at what benefits? These questions can just continue to spark our inquisitiveness about the movement and how it intends to accomplish social change. It is also important to remember that ‘‘social change is not an end product but rather a process’’ (Rappaport, 1981; p. 3). As such, it is important to understand factors that contribute towards a progressive change (Kelly, 2006).  As it appears, the movement has been able to exert pressures on politicians to tackle the issue of police brutality. Such an action or approach suggests that social change, as an end, cannot be achieved without involving the political elites. As a result of such a pressure, law enforcement has put in place a policy that requires police to wear body cameras since 2015 in some states, in order to improve police accountability (Shira, 2015).  Though this policy comes with its own drawbacks such as infringement on personal or community privacy, it would be premature to deny or undermine the effectiveness of its outcomes. In light of this, it also appears that Black Lives Matter as a social movement is still exploring different tactics, strategies, or approaches to raise awareness of abusive treatment for all marginalized groups regardless of their race. More importantly and interestingly, it suggests that the movement has taken an ecological approach, which examines the structures that undermine the dignity of the marginalized groups and provides some preventive measures to empower and improve the social environment.   

Given the current social context, which is also embedded in historical lens and has political implications, Black Lives Matter has surfaced as a new dynamism and social movement in the United States. As other prominent movements such as #MeToo movement or the LGBTQ movement, Black Lives Matter has been seeking to draw attention from the political class, particularly, to the respect of human rights and dignity for the African American community. In the middle of this new wave of social movements, it is important to remember what Rappaport (1981) observed: ‘‘social change is not an end product but rather a process (p. 3).’’  This new wave also suggests that the old apparatus of the American society is being challenged, and therefore changed insofar as Black Lives Matter movement remains engaged in its quest for the respect of human rights and equality.  

References 

Albee, G. W. (1999). Prevention, not treatment, is the only hope. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 12(2), 133-146 

Kelly, J.G. (2006). Toward an ecological conception of preventive interventions. In Becoming ecological: An expedition into community psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 

Rappaport, J. (1981). In praise of paradox: A social policy of empowerment over prevention. American Journal of Community Psychology, 9(1), 1-25 

Shira, S. (2015). Will the widespread use of body cameras improve police accountability? Yes. Americas Quarterly. Retrieved from: https://www.americasquarterly.org/content/yes-people-behave-differently-when-theyre-being-watched  

Szalavitz, M. (2018). Why we’re psychologically hardwired to blame the victim. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/27/victim-blaming-science-behind-psychology-research

Community, the Place I Come From…

Check out students of Community Social Psychology’s poems about their own communities.

By Anastasiya Tsoi

I am from a place smaller than a state of Texas… where snowy mountains and hot deserts exist, where hospitality means respect, where guest are always welcomed.

But I am also from a place where sustainability exists on the paper, where exit visa still remains (meaning you cannot leave a country without government permission), and where hosts may be punished by showing hospitality.

I am from a place where the literacy rate is 99%, where girls can study and go to universities, where women can have legal abortions.

But I am also from a place where tolerance for LGBTQ community does not exist, where yes, girls can study and go to universities but after marriage are not allowed to work and pursue their professional goals, where abortions are legal but sex is not.

I am from a place where culture, education, religion integrates but at the same time contradicts one another.

I did my first step to do a research, and be vocal about this place not because it needed it but because I love this place from the bottom of my heart.

By Nicole Cruz-Merced

I’m from Puerto Rico

I’m from Taíno and African culture,

I’m from warm weather and historic cities,

I’m from poverty and where people starve to death,

I’m from government corruption and no media attention.

I’m from an island I’m so proud to be from,

But I don’t understand why it can’t be the place I succeed.

Because of that reality,

I strive every day to save my home.

By Perla Ramirez

I’m from a small island where family is important and every Sunday we cook while making fun of each other

I’m from a community that loves to dance even when there a no lights to light up the dance floor

I’m from a country where sadly being depressed is still considered a choice

I’m from place that is afraid of the unknown so they paraphrase the bible to win their arguments even when they know is wrong

I’m also from a nation that swears that racism in has been long gone, yet they elect a president that instead of condemning neo-Nazis says there were “fine people on both sides”

Nonetheless we have a choice to change injustices and keep the love; by first changing ourselves and teaching the new generation how to be better than us.

By Raphael Marinho

I’m from the land where the sky is blue, the sea is green, and all the saints rest by the bay

I’m from the place where suffering screams, despite the samba and waves

I’m from Bahia, birth place of Brazil, where Africa still remains

I’m from the beautiful mess where we laugh, and we sing despite the sad state

I’m from promised new world that still reflects the horrors of yesterday.

I just don’t get why it turned out this way

I hope to be another one who carries the light of a possible new day

Like Prometheus, who took the risk for a brighter new way