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.  



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.  



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.  


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

Coexist: Working Towards Inclusion & Mutual Respect

by Diana Santana

Inclusion, as the act of taking in as part of a whole, was first coined with the goals of providing advocacy, awareness, and support for individuals with disabilities who have been socially excluded merely based on their impairments. Inclusion, however, does not stop with the social injustices within people with disabilities. According to community psychologists Nelson and Prilleltensky (2010), “Inclusion is becoming an organizing principle that applies broadly to people who have been discriminated against and oppressed by virtue of gender, sexual orientation, ethnoracial background, abilities, age, or some other characteristics” (p. 137). The authors of Community Psychology: In Pursuit of Liberation and Well-Being, claim that inclusion can be conceptualized in three levels, individual, relational, and societal level. At the individual level, Nelson and Prilleltensky (2010) state that inclusion demands regaining control of a positive personal and political identity; while, at the relational level, inclusion means welcoming and supporting communities and building relationships within the same. In the same way, at the societal level, inclusion is advocates for the promotion of equity and access to social resources that are known for being denied to minorities or oppressed people.

Why inclusion is important? When we do not promote inclusion, whether it is in our community, school or work setting, and at a personal level, we are allowing oppression to take place instead -especially, psychological oppression. Psychological oppression affects individuals’ self-esteem by creating this false idea that they are undeserving of social and community resources, and to have low expectations on themselves (Nelson and Prilleltensky, 2010). How can we implement inclusion? The authors claim that one way of building community and inclusion is emphasizing similarity rather than difference, but having in consideration that these differences can be constructed. Either way, Nelson and Prilleltensky (2010) encourage community psychologists to not only work with organizations that fight for inclusion but also to work with underprivileged and diverse groups to find some balance between the wide-ranging methods towards the goal of inclusion; in brief, to coexist.

Your values, Our values

At the University of Massachusetts Lowell, we embrace inclusion and equity. As UML mission statement states,

“Diversity makes us stronger, and a community that values equity and inclusion enhance the educational experience…We are committed to cultivating a just community and sustaining an inclusive campus culture. We embrace diversity in its broadest forms and believe academic excellence and diversity are inseparable.”

I’m a proud UML alumna, now working towards my goals of becoming a double River Hawk. I also work for the university as a Graduate Assistant at the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA). This was the first year that they took the initiative to hire graduate students from the Community Social Psychology Master Program instead of taking the same path of hiring someone from Higher Ed… and I can’t complain about it! At OMA, I have a variety of duties, from advising and advocating for cultural or spiritual clubs, helping them with event planning and implementation, to unifying and leading or hosting OMA’s annual series, “Invisible Identity Series,” focused on hidden identities that exist in the UMass Lowell community.

The first of this year’s series, “Coexist: Mutual respect and understanding across different ideologies,” was hosted in October. We invited students from all the different religious or spiritual communities within our student body. Students who consider themselves as Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Catholic, joined us to talk about their experiences about discrimination and oppression based on their identity. Hate had No Home there. The room was filled with respect, love and understanding and, most importantly, with empathy. I love this job because it allows me to employ what I have been learning through my personal and academic experiences, and it promotes and supports the principles that we value the most, our values.


University Resources:


Have you been the victim or witness to an incident? You can anonymously report here: https://cm.maxient.com/reportingform.php?UMassLowell&layout_id=10

UML Diversity Portal: https://www.uml.edu/diversity/


#UML #CommPsych



Geoffrey Nelson, Isaac Prilleltensky. (2010). Community Pasychology: In Pursuit of Liberation and Well-Being (2nd ed.). New York: Palgrave MacMillian

Autism in Communities: Considerations for the Inclusion of Individuals with Autism

The Center for Disease Control (2012) has found that the prevalence rate of autism in the United States is 1 in 68 children. Also, the organization, Autism Speaks (2017), notes that, each year, about 50,000 teenagers in the United States “age-out” of school-based services and must transition to adult-services. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, students transition to adult services at the ages of 22 and 21, respectively, however, the transition age from school-based to adult services varies by state. When individuals with autism transition to adult services, they face several new challenges, such as, finding a job, creating a broader network of support beyond immediate family members (neighbors, co-workers, support staff, etc.), and participating and engaging in community activities. By considering an ecological approach, described by Nelson and Prilleltensky (2010), we can begin to consider ways in which communities can support the participation and engagement of individuals with autism as adult members of their communities.

Interdependence: At the micro level, relationships between individuals with autism and their family members must be considered. For most families, the transition from school-based to adult services can be daunting, and this causes stress as parents decide how their adult with autism will spend their time during the day. At the meso level, adults with autism begin to seek support and relationships from members of their community, such as neighbors or co-workers. At this stage, building a support network is crucial as individuals with autism begin to acquire jobs and/or seek alternate
living arrangements in the community. At the macro level, individuals with autism may seek out opportunities within the community, such as volunteer opportunities provided by day programs, community clubs, or town meetings. Communities may consider providing extra supports at the meso and macro levels to ensure individuals with autism are able to expand their support networks and be active members in their communities.
Cycling of Resources: Although it may seem that individuals with autism receive a significant amount of resources from adult-service programs (day-care, residential care, transportation, clubs, activities, financial resources, etc.), it is also important to consider the ways in which these individuals contribute to their communities. For example, individuals with autism are employed in several different settings, and they also work as volunteers as part of job training programs and adult day programs. In many cases, these individuals find niches within their communities and work in specialized roles at different work sites. Individuals with autism definitely receive resources and support from community programs, however, these resources can be better modified to enable these individuals to work within the community and become contributing members to the community’s economy.

Adaptation: As mentioned previously, the transition from school-based to adult services for individuals with autism can be very challenging for families, and also, for communities. Individuals with autism must adapt to new schedules, working vs. learning environments, and the limited services available to them as adults. On the other hand, communities must adapt to provide inclusive environments in work and community settings. When communities make a commitment to inclusion, they are supporting the engagement and integration of individuals with autism into community settings and activities.

Succession: A few decades ago, “autism” was an uncommon diagnosis, and many people did not know about autism or how to work with people with autism. In many cases, individuals with autism were institutionalized. Today, however, knowledge about this disorder has become more accessible and communities are better equipped to provide supports for individuals with autism. Instead of casting these individuals aside, communities can work towards providing job opportunities and support community engagement so that these individuals can become active and contributing members of society.

Over the past few decades, the outcome for individuals with autism has become more optimistic, and they play more active roles in their communities due to supports that are in place such as adult service programs, community programs, and employment opportunities. Although progress has been made in providing more resources to individuals with autism, communities can consider an ecological approach to furthering the integration of individuals with autism in communities (Nelson and Prilleltensky, 2010).

#UML #commpsych

Autism Speaks. (2017). What is autism. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/whatautism

CDC, Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring network. (2016). [Graph illustrating the prevalence of autism in the United States between 2000 and 2012]. Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2012. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

Nelson, G., & Prilleltensky, I. (Eds.). (2010). Community psychology in pursuit of liberation and well-being. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Homelessness: In the Pursue of a New Paradigms

by Diana Santana

Homelessness does not discriminate… Regardless of religious beliefs o not beliefs at all, no matter your race or ethnicity, socio-economic status, homelessness could affect anyone given the unexpected and difficult set of situations. A homeless person is, “an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation” (National Health Care for the Homeless Council). Homelessness can be cause due to unexpected incidences or situations where a person not necessarily have the power to prevent it or control it; for instance, the loss of loved ones or their job, depression, mental illness, domestic violence and family disputes, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), physical disabilities, and natural disasters (Home Aid). Community psychologists work hard to provide healthier and productive lives to communities, while also promoting a sense of belonging and opportunities for social change. Homelessness is a social issue that has been addressed by community psychologists due to the issue being like a tree that unfortunately has many branches which can then ‘grow’ into creating not only issues within the individual who is experiencing homelessness but the community as a whole.


Community Psychologists and Homelessness: More than a Home

In the pursue of new paradigms, along with [mostly] non-profit organizations, community psychologists have been studying and addressing homelessness from every point of view; especially, using qualitative research as their method, “to understand the values, interests and meanings that underlie language, discourses, and texts” (Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010, p.263). In simpler words, they place the values within individuals before the statistics. As part of a constructivist paradigm, community psychologists have the change to interact, learn from the homeless individuals’ experiences, as well as questioning what does this experience means to them in order to provide them with more support and other ways to fight for their right and human dignity. Nelson and Prilleltensky (2010) consider this paradigm as, “an approach that has more kinship with the humanities than the hard sciences” (2010, p. 262).

The Housing First model is a representation of a constructivism paradigm because it does not require people experiencing homelessness to address the all of their problems including behavioral health problems, or “to graduate through a series of services programs before they can access housing” (National Alliance to End Homelessness). Using a local example, there are some other organizations, such as House of Hope, Lowell Transitional Living Center, Girls Inc, Alternative House (and so forth) that also promote this paradigm. Taking UTEC’s Streetworker program as an example, they provide workforce development and educational services to at-risk young men/women (ages 16-24). UTEC works aside with community partners to help these young individuals to get into a stable housing, as well as providing addiction treatment programs. Overall, community programs and organizations, as well as community psychologists adopt this method to not only helping the most vulnerable ones with offering a roof over their heads, but the opportunity to be heard and helped in a more individual, personal way. In brief, to keep perusing new paradigms to end homelessness, one community at a time.


#UML #CommPsych


Diana Santana is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell



Geoffrey Nelson, Isaac Prilleltensky. (2010). Community Pasychology: In Pursuit of Liberation and Well-Being (2nd ed.). New York: Palgrave MacMillian.



Fourth and Long: Time to Go Inches!

by Josh Vlahakis

The road to social justice is a never-ending path that splits into innumerable different directions; take a right and you are on pace to contribute to the termination of world hunger, take a left and you may just find the cure for all cancer. Ah, yes, what we have here is a general perception when it comes to fighting social justice: it comes down to influential heroes who are going to do something extraordinary to save the day.


Yes, the world needs those courageous enough to lead and to do so by example. However, social injustice is not something that can be tackled alone. Oftentimes it seems that when people want to do good for others, they want to do so on such a substantial level, almost to the point where it seems like they are doing it for themselves rather than the group or subgroup for which they are advocating, a point that is vividly illustrated in Prilleltensky’s (2001) analysis of praxis derived from values.


In order to distinguish oneself from the masses, he or she may strive to construct a social identity (Scott & Wolfe, 2015) of being a savior. I find that this topic is worth writing about at all because we would all be so much better at properly and effectively addressing social inequity if we adopted a more community-based mindset.


We need to focus on inches, not touchdowns; we need to focus on hitting the ball out of the infield to allow the runner to tag up from third base, not hitting grand slams. As Foster-Fishman et al. (2006) demonstrated, little victories are of utmost importance because they can lead into wins on a larger scale. I am not taking anything away from anyone who dreams big, from anyone who believes revolutionary change is possible.


All I’m saying is that we need to start small before we can go big. I learned this invaluable lesson from volunteering at the Restaurant Opportunities Center in the summer of 2016. My team did a phenomenal job of demonstrating to me the importance of volunteerism. In just a few months, I was not able to single-handedly create any policy change that positively impacts restaurant workers, but I was able to help collect a substantial amount of data that are have been released in what is now the most comprehensive report on the state of Greater Boston’s restaurant industry ever released.


With the United States arguably more concerned about national security than ever before, we have to ask ourselves the most efficient ways to go about protecting ourselves. I argue that positively impacting just one person could spare the world from having to experience another traumatic event. Even if it is as simple as saying hello to someone you don’t know, it could significantly influence one’s way of thinking in a positive direction.


I am an advocate for quality, unconventional human interaction because I believe that the world will be a much better place by everyone’s standards if we all took the time to practice our reflexivity. As Foster-Fishman et al. (2006) posit, “in order to build a healthy community, an active citizen base is needed” (p. 143). Even though there are billions of people in this world, we cannot succumb to the power of the diffusion of responsibility. It is up to every single one of us to do our part in making absolutely certain that this world is as close to our envisioned utopias as it possibly can be.


I am doing this by expressing sincerity in my emotions, by being honest with myself and those around me, by smiling to everyone I see. I constantly ask myself: what can I do better?


How are you doing this? What can you do better?


One step at a time…


#UML #CommPsych #littlewins



Josh Vlahakis is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology master’s program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell



Foster-Fishman, P. G., Fitzgerald, K., Brandell, C., Nowell, B., Chavis, D., & Van Egeren, L. A. (2006). Mobilizing residents for action: The role of small wins and strategic supports. American journal of community psychology, 38(3-4), 143-152.

Prilleltensky, I. (2001). Value‐Based Praxis in Community Psychology: Moving Toward Social Justice and Social Action. American journal of community psychology, 29(5), 747-778.

Scott, V. C., & Wolfe, J. K. (2015). Community psychology: Foundations for practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.