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.


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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).

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Autism Speaks. (2017). What is autism. Retrieved from

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

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.


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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.