What Does the Community Need?

by Eric Wang

In community social psychology, before deciding on how to strengthen the group with which they are working, practitioners must first determine from what the group might benefit through a community needs and resources assessment. With this assessment, community psychologists ascertain what resources (e.g., material, social, skills) are, and what resources are not, available to the people with whom they are working. From there, decisions can be made regarding what steps to take in order to address whatever issues are present by improving the availability of, the use of, and the access to those resources (Watson-Thompson, Collie-Akers, Woods, Anderson-Carpenter, Jones, & Taylor, 2015).

Things to keep in mind

When conducting needs assessments, it is important that community workers adhere to the core values of community social psychology. Specifically, the assessment must be participatory between the community and the psychologists. This means that the practitioners must consult with the group with which they are working in order to determine what it is that the group needs and desires. This operation should be both cooperative and ongoing, allowing the community and practitioners to best analyze together the resources in the community (Watson-Thompson et al., 2015).

The assessment should also be prevention-oriented. The community members and psychologists should not only consider the current state of the community, but they should also look at the conditions (e.g., behaviors, resources) that preceded any of the problems that they might be facing. Possible future issues should also be taken into account so that the community can begin to address them as soon as possible (Watson-Thompson et al., 2015).

Furthermore, community psychologists always should maintain an ecological perspective. Effective needs assessments require professionals to scrutinize the contextual factors that are unique to the community with which they are working. Practitioners should address the historical, individual, cultural, social, systemic, and environmental aspects that have an impact on the community (Watson-Thompson et al., 2015).

Lastly, the assessment should be action-focused. When the assessment is complete, the community and the practitioners should know what problems need attention. The assessment should help guide the steps that are taken to solve those problems (Watson-Thompson et al., 2015).

Let us now take a cursory look at the executive summary of the 2013 Greater Lowell Community Health Needs Assessment to see a real world application of these principles.

The 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment of Greater Lowell

Conducted by the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the health needs assessment identified a number of resources related to health in Lowell and its surrounding townships. While they found that the region contained quality health care providers, it was also revealed that certain types of services were limited (e.g., therapists, dentists). These findings satisfy the basic definition of a community needs and resources assessment. The data were obtained using community informants, interviews of community members, and focus groups from the community, making the assessment participatory. The assessment also demonstrated a focus on prevention by determining which groups (e.g., the elderly) within the community were at an elevated risk for disease. The researchers applied an ecological perspective as well by finding social and environmental factors that impacted health (e.g., access to transportation and health insurance). Finally, the investigation emphasized action by discerning specific problems (e.g., language barriers to health care) and making recommendations to address them (e.g., increase interpreter services) (Turcotte & Vidrine, 2013).

Further Reading

The above has offered only a brief overview of part of the necessary framework for learning the needs and resources of a community. Found below are resources that can contribute to a more thorough understanding of the process.

For a more in-depth guide on community needs assessments, visit this website: http://ctb.ku.edu/en/assessing-community-needs-and-resources

To read the executive summary or the full report of the 2013 Greater Lowell Community Health Needs Assessment, check these links:

http://www.lowellgeneral.org/files/dmfile/GreaterLowellCommunityHealthNeedsAssessmentExecutiveSummary2013.pdf [Executive summary]

http://lowellgeneral.org/files/dmfile/GreaterLowellCommunityHealthNeedsAssessmentReport2013.pdf [Full report]

#UML #CommPsych #CommunityHealth #GreaterLowell


Eric Wang is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.



Turcotte, D., Vidrine, E. (2013). Greater Lowell community health needs assessment: Executive summary. University of Massachusetts Lowell. Retrieved from             http://www.lowellgeneral.org/files/dmfile/GreaterLowellCommunityHealthNeedsAssess mentExecutiveSummary2013.pdf

Watson-Thompson, J., Collie-Akers, V., Woods, N. K., Anderson-Carpenter, K. D., Jones, M. D., & Taylor, E. L. (2015). Participatory approaches for conducting community needs   and resources assessments. In V. C. Scott & S. M. Wolfe (Eds.), Community psychology: Foundations for practice (pp. 157-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Paying to Keep the Homeless, Homeless

by Maria Gebhardt


Homelessness in America is an epidemic that affects over 500,000 people on any given night with 7 million additional individuals living with friends or family due to lack of housing (The State of Homelessness in America, 2016). Average costs of homelessness to society can vary, depending on location and available services, but they are steadily reported to be tens of thousands of dollars per year, per person. HUD officials have stated that homeless individuals cost taxpayers as much as $40,000 each, per year; this figure includes transitional or emergency housing, jail visits, emergency room visits, and mental health care (S. Donovan, personal communication, March 5, 2012). Just knowing over half a million Americans don’t have a place to sleep at night is troubling enough, but the fact that we, as tax payers, spend so much money keeping them homeless is disgraceful.
What if I told you it is cheaper to give all the homeless families and individuals homes? One would think that anyone with a shred of humanity or fiscal knowledge would jump on the opportunity to better the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, help make them contributing members of society AND save millions of dollars per year; the problem is, not everyone is. Some efforts have been made but much greater change needs to occur.

The formula for drastically reducing chronic homelessness is simple, give them homes first then help them sustain them. An approach originating in New York- Housing First- does just that and it works. Housing First is an approach to fight homelessness using a fairly simple method: quickly and effectively connect individuals with permanent housing without barriers such as mental health, addiction, etc., with a lease contract and additional services offered on a voluntary basis. Essentially, the approach focuses on housing individuals first then addressing the factors that potentially caused the individual or family to become homeless and helping them form a path to maintain permanent housing.

Housing First has provided substantial reductions in the homeless population in several areas of the country and, most drastically, in Utah. Using the Housing First approach, Utah reduced their chronically homeless population by an outstanding 91%; spending only $10,000-$12,000 a year per individual (Mcevers, 2015). These numbers make one wonder why more cities are not jumping on board the Housing First movement.

Some speculation of Utah’s success has been noted concerning government official’s rush to declare homelessness solved and the inaccuracies that occur while trying to record homeless individuals. Even through these speculations, it is obvious that they have put forth a sincere effort and that effort is paying off both humanely and financially. The numbers of chronically homeless individuals are being reduced and the taxpayers are spending less money; those two facts cannot be debated.

Simply put, Housing First works. Utah is saving over $10,000 a year, per person while housing those who did not have permanent housing before. Denver, CO, using the Housing First approach, is saving over $2.4 million annually and has reported that over 80% of the individuals in the program have maintained permanent housing for 6 months or more (Denver Housing First, 2006). Charlotte, NC reported a $1.8 million savings its first year using the Housing First approach for just 85 individuals (Miles, 2014).

These numbers are astonishing not only because of the monetary savings but the number of lives changed through Housing First. This all leads to the overbearing question: Why are we paying so much money to keep the homeless, homeless?

I urge you to visit endhomelessness.org to learn about Housing First efforts in your area and ways you can help. #uml #commpsych


Maria Gebhardt is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.



Denver Housing First Collaborative Cost Benefit Analysis & Program Outcomes Report. (2006, December). Retrieved from http://www.coloradocoalition.org/!userfiles/housing/ executive_summary_dhfc_study.pdf

La Ganga, Maria L. Utah says it won ‘war on homelessness’, but shelters tell a different story. (2016, April 27). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/27/utah-homeless-shelters-housing-first

Mcevers, Kelly. Utah Reduced Chronic Homelessness By 91 Percent; Here’s How. (2015, December 10). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2015/12/10/459100751/utah-reduced-chronic-homelessness-by-91-percent-heres-how

Miles, Kathleen. Housing The Homeless Not Only Saves Lives — It’s Actually Cheaper Than Doing Nothing. (2014, March 25) Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/25/housing-first-homeless-charlotte_n_5022628.html

The State of Homelessness in America. (2016, April 6). Retrieved from http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/SOH2016

Sense of Community

by Martha Stewart

We are and have been a member of a different community. Every community has members with a high sense of community and some where the sense is low. What is a sense of community? It is when you feel that you are connected to a community that is interdependent. What is interdependent mean? You are dependent on each other and others in your community. Have you ever walked in your neighborhood and found groups of people talking to each other, who you know are neighbors? Of course, you have. We all have. You may have called a neighbor and asked if you can catch a ride to the supermarket because your car is in the shop. That’s interdependent. A neighbor may have stopped you on the side of the road just to ask how you are and if you want to go get coffee. There are some individuals who have never introduced themselves to their neighbors and never have that sense of community. The sad part about this is you never know who you can become friends with and who might be someone you can share things with. If you have taken a walk, in your neighborhood, on a weekend, a saw a neighborhood yard sale taken place, you may have thought to yourself, ‘why didn’t they ask me?’. These neighbors may not even know you exist because you never took the time to introduce yourself. Back in the 60s and 70s, mostly everyone knew who their neighbors were because they were always out and about, never staying in, hiding from the world. Their children played with each other, they got together at someone’s house for coffee to chit chat, and they pretty much knew each other’s business. They were fully connected to their community. Today, there are not that many people who do this anymore. People are afraid to get to know their neighbors because they are not sure of what they might think about who they are, what they do for a living, how they raise their children, whether or not they’re on state assistance and don’t want to be mocked, and any other issues that may arise that may keep them from getting to know them.

A sense of community consists of four elements: ‘membership, influence, reinforcement integration of fulfillment needs, and shared emotional connection’ (Byrne, 2014).
Membership is when you feel you belong to a community, you feel you have the right to belong there, you are part of the community, you have a personal connection, you have a sense of emotional safety, you feel accepted, and you identify with your community. If you have made many friends in the community you feel you have a personal investment, and you feel that you can identify with the people who belong there and feel encroached by people who you know don’t belong there. If we are part of a community, we have all had these feelings. We may or may not identify with all of them but we will have a sense of community. Just like a gym membership, you pay your dues to be there and you know who does and doesn’t belong.
Influence: This includes your making a difference and having an influence on other members of the community and they make a difference to you. Do you conform with what others do and say? As a member of your community you have a right to offer your opinion about what happens in and around your community and you also have a closeness to these people.
Reinforcement integration of fulfillment needs refers to you having something that the community offers and the community has something you want. You may also feel as though you have been rewarded when you participated in something the community has done. You also feel that you were respected for what you have offered and you should respect what others, in your
community, have offered. Do you feel you have some type of similarities to others? There may be more people in your community who feel the same.
Shared emotional connection bring people together. You share a common bond. You spend time together and the quality of this time is greatly appreciated. You also have an emotional connection that is going to build as long as you are in this community. Giving something of value to others, by way of knowledge and experience, just might get you the same. Everyone has different stories and experiences to share that you may come away with, something you can use in your own life.
Don’t just sit back. Get out and socialize with your community. Join a group. Even if it’s reading group at the library or a neighborhood yard sale, someone told you was coming up. You need to open yourself up to get something in return. Enjoy your community.


#UML #commpsych

Martha Stewart is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Byrne, Shannon, (6/2/2014), 4 Elements to Creating a “Sense of Community” by David McMillan, Retrieved from: http://thecommunitymanager.com/2014/02/06/4-elements-to-creating-a-sense-of-community-by-dr-david-mcmillan/

Far Away from Free

by Patricia Luki


In March 2016, the Human Rights Watch released an article and a video of how a mental health institution in Indonesia treats their mentally ill patients. The article talked about how most of the individuals in that institution was chained to their beds and were fed inhumanely (Human Rights Watch, 2016).

I was born and raised in Indonesia, and I have heard stories and have seen people who are mentally ill or disabled being locked up in their own home or in an institution. However, I have never imagined that it would grabbed an international media’s attention, and I am pretty sure that not many people in Indonesia are aware of this as well. Moreover, this resulted in having some of my American friends shared this article to me. It was very difficult to explain to my American friends that there is lack of support for the mentally ill, or even for individuals with physical or developmental disabilities in Indonesia. For example, Indonesia has a population of 250 million people; however, there are only 600 to 800 psychiatrists and 48 mental hospitals (Human Rights Watch, 2016). Not only that, people who are admitted in these mental health institutions were forced to take medications or subjected to “alternative” medicines, such as herbs, traditional massages and Quran reading in the person’s ear (Human Rights Watch, 2016). It sounds bizarre, but yes, this is something that is happening right now on the other side of the world. Although this practice of locking up patients in confined spaces, also known as pasung, was banned by the government in 1977, families, traditional healers and staffs in the institutions still continue to use this method on individuals with mental illness or disabilities (Human Rights Watch, 2016). When you look at Indonesia from this perspective, anyone would probably say “Oh wow, this country needs help.” And yes, we definitely do need a lot of help.

Community psychology is a field that has a strong interest in social justice, community education and building public awareness (Langhout, 2015). When I was reading Langhout article, I realized that Indonesia is still lacking in social justice, community educating and public awareness on most things, especially regarding mental health and disability rights. Also, Indonesia’s mental illness problems originated from the lack of community awareness, community education and government involvement and control (Human Rights Watch, 2016). Just like many other developing countries, there is still a huge stigma towards the mentally ill, and with the addition of the lack of appropriate services, the fate of these people are in the hands of “professionals” who mostly do not know what they are doing or what they need to do. For example, I have encountered many of my relatives who refrained themselves from taking their children with developmental disabilities outside because they still think that the “sickness” can be contagious. There is still lack of awareness what mental illness is and how to treat people with mental illness or disabilities in Indonesia. Many Indonesians still adhere to traditional herbs or alternative methods in healing any kind of diseases, even cancer!

It is scary if I think about how Indonesia is behind in having proper mental health care and laws. The Human Rights Watch said that the government should amend to the 2014 Mental Health Act to ensure that people with mental illness and other disabilities have the same rights as other Indonesians (2016). I also think that it is very crucial for Indonesia to increase the number of community-based programs and more trained professionals and staffs to educate the community and provide better services for people with mental illness and disabilities. Also, the field of community psychology is not as advanced or maybe even unknown to some universities in Indonesia. My goal is to become a BCBA and bring back the knowledge back home so that children with developmental disabilities will be able to get the proper services and improve their quality of life. However, if Indonesia does not change its laws or take actions in improving how they treat the mentally ill, I’m afraid that there is only little I can do back home. Indonesia still has a long way from advanced mental health care and proper laws for the mentally ill and disabled, and Indonesia is definitely still far away from free if there are still people chained up in their wooden beds in mental health institutions.

The video based on the Human Rights Watch article can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBa-wwcakHM.  #UML #commpsych

Patricia Luki is a graduate student in the Autism Studies department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.


Barry, A. (Photographer). (2016). A mentally ill man is shackled at the Bina Lestari Mandiri healing center in Brebes [digital image]. Retrieved from http://jakarta.coconuts.co/2016/03/21/living-hell-human-rights-watch-report-details-horrific-conditions-mentally-ill-kept

Human Rights Watch (2016, March 20). Indonesia: End Shackling of People With Disabilities. Retrieved September 06, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBa-wwcakHM

Human Rights Watch (2016, March 20). Indonesia: Treating Mental Health With Shackles. Retrieved September 06, 2016, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/20/indonesia-treating-mental-health-shackles

Langhout, R. D. (2015). Considering Community Psychology Competencies: A Love Letter to Budding Scholar-Activists Who Wonder if They Have What It Takes. American Journal of Community Psychology, 55(3-4), 266-278. doi:10.1007/s10464-015-9711-5

Salmon with a Side of Justice? Not On Our Menu!

by Josh Vlahakis

The restaurant industry in the United States, employing over 11 million workers (Jayaraman, 2016), is the nation’s second-largest industry (Henderson, 2012). Despite this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014) estimates that of the ten lowest-paying occupations in the United States, seven of them are positions found within the restaurant industry.

How can it be that one of the nation’s fastest growing industries is exacerbating poverty at a much greater level than other industries? The worst part of it is that many restaurant workers do not see the exploits of their labor; many of them do not know their rights or how to detect if they are being treated unlawfully. This is a social issue that is often overlooked and underreported; those who have worked in restaurants witness or experience injustices on a daily basis: no paid sick-time, wage theft, not being paid time-and-a-half for overtime work, etc. Oftentimes, restaurants employ undocumented immigrants who are afraid to speak up due to losing their job or the possibility of deportation.

Like many people in the United States, I enjoy going out to eat in restaurants, almost as much as I enjoy working in one, but it is hard to fully enjoy my experiences knowing how difficult it is for some restaurant workers to make ends meet and ultimately get treated humanely by their management.

Fortunately, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United), a community-oriented organization, was founded to research and practice how restaurants can and should treat their workers more fairly. This organization understands the influence employers have on their employees, who create a social context in which marginalized restaurant workers are penalized for speaking up for themselves.

However, ROC-United empowers workers to stand together in the face of injustice using Urie Bronfenbrenner’s developmental approach, understanding that the individual and environment have a bidirectional influence on one another (Scott & Wolfe, 2015). As an intern and member of ROC-United, I preach to fellow restaurant workers that restaurants will continue their unjust ways if they remain unchallenged. I encourage them to practice what Bond (1999) describes as “connected disruption,” (p. 350) where the dynamics of a particular institution are challenged in order to “disturb complacency” (Evans, 2015, p. 360).

I have worked in a restaurant for nearly five years and am very passionate about the work I do and those with whom I interact. I love having the ability to meet people from innumerable cultures and backgrounds with the opportunity to brighten up their day. In such a rapidly-growing industry, why does it have to be designed to keep people in poverty? In short, it doesn’t have to be!

I joined ROC-United to help provide a stronger voice for the disenfranchised communities affected by corrupt malpractice. This organization practices many of the competencies of community psychology, including community inclusion and partnership. This is achieved through meticulous and tireless attempts to build an audible voice to ALL restaurant workers experiencing an array of different injustices. In order to promote diversity throughout the various positions in a restaurant, ROC-United also practices sociocultural and cross-cultural competence to demonstrate that the quality of front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house positions alike would benefit from a stronger demographic representation. If restaurant employers prioritized the quality of justice served to their employees, the level of guest retention would increase and employee turnover would decrease—two of the major objectives employers strive to achieve.

Social justice for restaurant workers directly impacts the overall health of our communities. Oftentimes, employees are forced to work while sick because they are told they will be fired otherwise (Jayaraman, 2013). In most restaurants, employees don’t have paid sick-time, which makes it nearly impossible to miss work for those who cannot afford a day off. These practices, which have become the norm in the restaurant industry, infuriate me to no end.

I got involved with ROC-United because I love working in a restaurant, and know many others who do as well, and we feel that we should be entitled to the same rights as those in other industries. These rights would not only impact the worker, but the overall health of our communities. People are more likely to go out to eat at a restaurant that they know treats their employees like human beings. If you work in a restaurant or know someone who does, please encourage them to share their stories anonymously with ROC-United or attend our “Know Your Rights” meetings that teach restaurant workers how to actively and legally resist wrongful practices by their employer.


#UML #commpsych #ROC #ROCBoston #OneFairWage


Josh Vlahakis is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.



Bond, M. A. (1999). Gender, race, and class in organizational contexts. American Journal of  Community Psychology, 27(3), 327-355.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics (OES), 2014 [www.bls.gov/ces/]. National cross-industry estimates sorted by median hourly wage for all standard occupational classifications.

Evans, S. D. (2015). The community psychologist as critical friend: Promoting critical       community praxis. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 25(4), 355-368.

Henderson, R. (2012). Industry employment and output projections to 2020. Monthly Lab. Rev., 135, 65.

Jayaraman, S. (2013). Behind the kitchen door. Cornell University Press.

Jayaraman, S. (2016). Forked: A New Standard for American Dining. Oxford University Press.

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

IDD Sterilization

by Maria Gebhardt, Univeristy of Massachusetts Lowell

Sterilization of the intellectually and developmentally disabled: An act of protection or modern day eugenics?

In 2014, a mother in Iowa forced her 20-year-old son, who has an intellectual disability, to undergo a vasectomy. The son did not consent, sued, and won- but not because he did not consent to the vasectomy; he won because his mother failed to get the courts permission prior to the procedure (Volokh, 2014).

Compulsory sterilization (sterilization without consent) remains prevalent in the intellectually and developmentally disabled community to this day. Though the practice of forced sterilization is illegal, the laws have loopholes and do not protect most of those deemed incompetent. These individuals are being coerced into vasectomies, hysterectomies, and tubal ligations oftentimes with no informed consent.

So many questions arise when discussing this topic: Is this sterilization ethical? Would we be better off allowing them to bear children? Should we educate and let them choose? Is birth control an option or is that also unethical? Intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD’s) vary so greatly that it becomes hard to determine at what point we are no longer advocating for and protecting them and instead taking away their right to choose.

I have personally encountered a woman with an IDD who had a hysterectomy and thought she would one day become a mother, had once had a child and had a tubal ligation post-delivery without her personal consent, and many who took oral contraception daily without their knowledge. Even knowing these women personally, I don’t know which, if any, of these situations were ethical, although, I am certain they would not function effectively as parents. They did not have the knowledge or skills to care for a baby, at least not independently. Some of these women did have the desire to have a child though; perhaps allowing them to have a baby and placing them in an open adoption could have been an alternative? We don’t sterilize women in prison, or those with drug addictions or even those who have been found guilty of child abuse in the past, so why single out the IDD community?

Accompanied by the question of their right to choose is the issue of the risks of sterilization surgeries. Tubal ligations and vasectomies are relatively low risk but hysterectomies are still major surgeries, with significant risks. It is not ethically or morally right to put an individual through a major surgery to prevent pregnancy, especially without their informed consent.

Daily oral contraception can appear to be the “happy medium” but also raises some concerns. When a woman takes daily birth control, she receives plentiful information prior to receiving a prescription and she knows exactly why she is going to be taking it. Many individuals with IDD’s cannot comprehend the purpose and risks of the contraception. Almost all of these individuals take daily medication for health issues without comprehension of why they are being taken, which is understandable and ethical, but they are necessary for health and oral contraception is not.

Placing aside all ethical concerns and even medical concerns, a larger question remains: why are we ignoring the sterilization of individuals with IDD’s? This is a prime example of eugenics existing in today’s society. Are we taking away their ability to procreate in order to protect them from the health concerns of pregnancy and the trials of parenting? It is more likely that we are avoiding the risk of them having a child with an IDD and someone else having to raise and care for that child. If it is, as I suspect, the priority to avoid them passing on the disability and secondly, to protect them, then we, as an educated, developed, society, are allowing and ignoring eugenics. Maybe allowing them to procreate is not the answer but should they not have some say in that themselves? In ignoring the issue of compulsory sterilization, we are failing these individuals. The ethics on this matter may never be clear, but certainly the conversation should exist. #UML #commpsych


Volokh, E. (2014, April 18). Sterilization of the “intellectually disabled”. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/04/18/sterilization-of-the-intellectually-disabled/?utm_term=.f06235c3db

Maria Gebhardt is a graduate student in Community Social Psychology Deaprtment at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Spread the Word, to End the Word


thatssonotgay_retarded_11 (1)

by Helena Whitlow

When is it ok to use the word “retarded”? Well, I can tell you right now, it’s never. The word itself is so demeaning and derogatory, that it’s often spread around to describe something, or someone, who is beingdumb, absurd, illogical, childish etc. If you’re a Bostonian like I am, you hear that word being used A LOT. I was out to dinner with my younger brother and his friends, who are all in high school, andstill trying to navigate throughout the world. We were all having casual conversations, and one of my brother’s friends blurts out “THAT’S SO RETARDED!”Working in the field of autism, I got really upset and instantly replied back saying “that’s not a term to be thrown around you know?” He looked at me puzzled, confused, and thought I was being a “witch,” for lack of a better term. Using that word can really affect someone’s attitudes and actions, and cause pain to those around us. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the r-word is not just a clinical term, but a phrase. So, how can we spread the word, to end the word?

The word “retarded” is defined as “slow or limited intellectual or emotional development or academic progress” (“Retarded”, 2015). This term has been used for years in clinical practice in diagnosing an individual as “mentally retarded”, but as years go on, that phrase ensues a negative label. How did this word go from being a clinical term to slang? There’s an organization called “Spread the Word, to End the Word,” where people across the world can pledge their support to eliminating this derogatory term. The website uses the aspects of community psychology to help solve the problem, setting the standard that we as a geosystem, need to create more acceptance and better attitudes towards everyone with or without a disability. The organization utilizes foundational principles, and community and social change to address this issue, helping to create person-first language.

By referring to the competency of “Ethical, Reflective Practice,” community psychologists and “Spread the Word, to End the Word” organization strives for the continual ethical improvement for all. The effects of the r-word on people with disabilities is hurtful, and we want to show that everyone is capable of pursuing anything. People are coming together to improve the quality of life for people, utilizing the “Community Organizing and Community Advocacy” competency. The campaign focuses on spreading awareness on how language can affect someone’s overall wellbeing, in which as a community, we need to create more accepting attitudes (Scott & Wolfe, 2015, p. 44).

Let’s think of it this way, if somebody told you that you’re so stupid because you got a bad grade on your math homework, how would it make you feel? It would probably make you inflict negative feelings towards math, and you degrade yourself for even trying. Now, think of how the r-word feels to someone with a disability? We all want to feel accepting, and it should be like that for everyone, regardless of ability. So, what can you do to help spread the word, to end the word? Go to http://www.r-word.org/ ,pledge your support to eliminate the use of the word, and be part of the change that can affect the lives to those around us.

#commpsych #spreadthewordtoendtheword #equalityforall

Helena Whitlow is a graduate student in Autism Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.


Retarded. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2015, from http://www.merriam-    webster.com/dictionary/retarded

Scott, V., Wolfe,S. (2015). Community Psychology: Foundations for practice. California:         Sage Publications Inc.




Are Same-sex Classrooms Effective?

By Mariah Bourne

There has been an ongoing dispute over the benefits and drawbacks of having single-sex classrooms in public schools. Those in favor of this practice argue that same-sex classes get rid of inhibitions and stereotypes that girls and boys face in coed classes. Proponents also argue that kids should be separated by sex because boys and girls are motivated differently and they are allowed to reach their full potential in academics without distraction (http://www.thedailybeast.com). On the other hand, those who disapprove assert that single-sex classrooms do nothing but force students into stereotyped behavior while limiting interaction between males and females (http://www.everydaylife.globalpost.com). Although it has been proved that separating the sexes in education is ineffective (http://www.thedailybeast.com), same-sex classrooms could be very beneficial if used in a practical way.

Instead of having same-sex classrooms as the only option in schools, it would be more plausible to use single-sex classrooms to teach certain classes such as health, where sex actually makes a difference. Separating girls and boys for some classes but not others would reduce the lack of interaction between sexes that is argued by opponents as well as empower students. Community psychology competencies such as mentoring and empowerment should be used by teachers in order to assist boys and girls in finding their own voices and personal strengths without being discouraged by the presence of the other sex.

Although classes like these would be extremely beneficial to both sexes, I think they are a necessity for young women. Women are highly underrepresented in every aspect of the government and continue to be paid 79% of what men are paid (http://www.aauw.org/). This is a huge issue that has been overlooked for centuries and will continue to be ignored if women are not taught at a young age where they really stand in this country and steps that can be taken to change this lopsidedness. Same-sex classes could aid in increasing the amount of female leaders in the country by educating young women about topics that are important because of the sole fact that they are women living in a sexist society.

Some essential topics that could be covered are feminism, negotiating salaries, society and beauty (body image, self-esteem), and sexual education (teen pregnancy). These topics are for the most part female-centered so it makes sense that they would be taught in an all female class. Same-sex classes would be helpful for effectively teaching these topics and getting through to young women because there would be no distractions from young men who would most likely not be very interested in the topics listed. In addition, these classes would also promote strong ties among young females which is useful in the goal to have women join together and fight for, rather than against each other.

Same-sex classes would be equally as beneficial for young men. Having a class that focuses on topics centered toward each sex would allow for kids to express their true feelings and opinions on topics that directly effect them because of their sex.

#commpsych   #reformedu

Mariah Bourne is a graduate student in Community Social Psychology Deaprtment at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.


Scott, V.C. & Wolfe, S.M. (2015). Community Psychology: Foundations for Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.





A Teacher for All

by Jackie Marcoux, University of Massachusetts Lowell

What comes to mind when you hear the word education?  It is likely that images of school buildings, classrooms, and teachers lecturing on a particular subject all come to mind.  While any image you conjured up is valid, did you come up with any images of education occurring outside of the traditional spaces associated? How about the school yard?  The grocery store?  Your neighborhood?

I have dedicated my life to education.  When I first began my journey towards educating others, I too thought the only way was through the traditional idea of a classroom.  As I progressed through my undergraduate career as an Elementary/Special Education major I began to realize that world was not where I fit in.  I didn’t want to be standing in front of elementary school kids teaching them spelling and math.

My experience as a Resident Assistant made me realize I wanted to work with college students but again not as a professor at the front of the room.  As an RA I encountered so many students who were uneducated on some of the most vital life skills and knowledge.  There were students who didn’t know where to get a condom or a dam (assuming they knew female condoms existed), didn’t know how to ask for help academically or personally, didn’t know how to interact with people different from themselves; the list could go on.  My job as an RA was to educate my residents as much as I could on the issues that were relevant to them.  I took this idea and ran with it.

I created a theater based peer education group at my alma mater that tries to address these issues.  The most important event that the group puts on to educate students is a performance at freshmen orientation.  In the first performance we covered issues of drinking, sexual violence, and partner violence.  This past year we addressed suicide, same sex sexual assault, verbal abuse, and anxiety.  After each performance there would be students who would approach us to ask further questions, thank us for performing, or ask how to get involved.  Everyone involved, be it participants in the show or audience members, where being educated and learning something new.

Outside of the explicit opportunities for education that I built or sought out, I am also an ambassador of education every day.  When I walk by with my service dog I am educating someone new.  Maybe they didn’t know a service dog could go everywhere with me.  Perhaps they didn’t know that a service dog for individuals with a hearing loss existed.  Maybe they want to know more about what a service dog does and how a dog becomes a service dog.  Every time I am stopped and a question is asked about my service dog is a moment when I am an educator.

All this adds up to a natural connection with Community Social Psychology.  To me, the core of CSP is providing people with education and the ability to learn and grow.  The education may come from a program explicitly created to address an issue.  It could also come from teaching people how build capacity and make change from and for themselves.  It comes from making connections with people and bridging the gaps in order to be successful as a community.  I may not be a teacher in the traditional form but with my CSP education I hope to be a teacher that everyone can access.


Jackie Marcoux is a graduate student in Community Social Psychology Department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Threat Assessment Prevention Program: A Temporary Hope?

by Annisha Susilo, University of Massachusetts Lowell

One of the common response I received from friends and family when I told them I’m going to study in America was “Be careful, you know the gun problem there”. I understand their concern and it does have a strong statistical basis. The statistics published by MotherJones.com on mass shootings (four or more shooting victims in a single incident, not including the shooter) found thatthere have been at least 72 public mass shootings across 31 states in the past 33 years (Follman, Aronsen, & Pan, 2015). The number is currently believed to be on the rise, with mass shootings occur every 64 days on average since 2011 (Cohen, Azrael & Miller, 2014). Out of a total of 143 guns owned by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally. The gun types range from semi-automatic handguns to assault weapons. Approximately half of the cases of mass shootings occur in a school or workplace, and the rest of the cases took place in public spaces such as shopping malls, restaurants, religious and government building. The killers were mostly white males, with an average age of 35 years old. The majority of them were mentally troubled or displayed signs of mental health problems prior to committing the crime (Follman, Aronsen& Pan, 2015).

So what do we do to stop it?

Gun control is a debatable issue in US. Currently, there is a lack of political will (or ability) to tighten regulations on the sale and access to guns (Follman, 2015). This doesn’t mean that the government is not doing anything at all. Ever since the Columbine massacre in 1999, there is a shift of focus in the law enforcement from prosecution to prevention method. Threat assessment is one of the prevention program run locally across America in response to the mass shooting problems (Follman, 2015). Itconsists of a team of cops, psychologist, counselors and security expert, who work together to identify, evaluate and intervene people who has the potential to turn violent or become a mass shooter (Follman, 2015). The aim of this secondary method of prevention is simple, to stop someone from becoming a mass shooter.

How do they do it?

Threat assessment involves three stages; identifying, evaluating and intervening process. It starts when the team receivesa tip or report from people in the community about a potential high risk subject who has been behaving erratically or have communicated their intention to harm others. The team then works to identify if the subject is a real threat by looking at their social background and risk factors such as access to weapon, mental health status, and intention to kill. Information is then evaluated and used to create interventions such as counselling programs or if threat is imminent, involuntary hospitalization (Follman, 2015).

How will does it work?

“In December 2013, then-attorney General Eric Holder announced that Simons’ FBI unit (a threat assessment team) had helped prevent almost 150 attacks in one year” (Follman, 2015, para.17).  That is a lot of potential crime prevented, but why is the rate of mass shooting still increasing every year? The experts argue that it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of threat assessment because there is no real way of knowing “whether someone would have otherwise gone to attack” (Follman, 2015, para.18). Furthermore, like any other issue in the community, it requires multiple solutions that specifically target the risks. Threat assessment is one of them, but it can’t be the only one, especially when a significant risk factor such as access to guns has not been properly addressed.More work needs to be done incorporating Bronfenbrenner’s level of analysis and need assessment model in prevention programs if we want to win“the race to stop the next mass shooter” (Follman, 2015, title). (630 words)

#Commpsych #prevention #massshooting #threatassessment

Annisha Susilo is a graduate student in Community Social Psychology Department at University of Massachusetts Lowell.


Cohen, A. P., Azrael, D., & Miller, M. (2014).Rate of Mass Shootings Has Tripled Since 2011, Harvard Research Shows. Retrieved http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/mass-shootings-increasing-harvard-research


Follman, M., Aronsen, G., & Pan, D. (2015).A Guide to Mass Shootings in America. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map


Follman, M. (2015).Inside The Race to Stop The Next Mass Shooter. Retrieved form http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/09/mass-shootings-threat-assessment-shooter-fbi-columbine


Image source Stanford Mass Shootings in America, courtesy of the Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries. (2015). Retrieved from https://library.stanford.edu/projects/mass-shootings-america