Sunday, February 6, 2011

What is psychology's role in social justice (and vice versa)?

- by Stacey Prince

The title of this article expresses questions that TJP’s leadership council has grappled with and that I’m sure will continue to be at the heart of our discourse for quite some time. I recently attended the National Multicultural Conference and Summit, where I hoped to further challenge myself and deepen my thinking on these questions. I am reporting back now with mixed results.

The first Multicultural Summit met in 1999, and the conference has taken place every other year since then. I was excited that it was in Seattle this year, both because it was easier for me to attend and to share the city I love with out of town friends. Although an official American Psychological Association (APA) event, the Summit traditionally has both a different focus and a different feel. Unlike an APA convention where one might find a few offerings on multicultural psychology, oppression, and social justice, the Summit is a conference where these topics are the explicit focus. Also, it typically has more experiential and participatory components, versus the receptive, lecture style, heavy on the powerpoint offerings that are characteristic of APA. Finally, the Summit has historically been a space where “difficult dialogues” on topics such as privilege and power within our profession, horizontal oppression between marginalized groups, and tensions between various aspects of our profession (research versus practice, for instance) are not only not avoided, but actually welcomed. For all of the above reasons, I was relishing the opportunity to explore areas that are of great relevance both for me personally and to TJP.

To read entire article click here.


  1. Stacey, I really enjoyed hearing about your experiences during the Summit. I hadn't gotten a chance to ask you about your afternoon on the last day. I wanted to share with you briefly about the last panel discussion and break out sessions that I attended, since you weren't there. It was the most interesting of all the panel discussions...I agree that the other "difficult dialogues" from the previous day were not "difficult" at all. What I appreciated about the last panel (and the audience appreciated it) was that they abandoned the discussion of "science versus practice" and really talked about multi-culturalism and psychology's need to get out of its silo if it wants to really do social justice work. The major topic was about partnering with others to do social justice work and the concept of getting rid of the old "Boulder Model" and incorporating multicultural competency explicitly into training. The audience called it the "Seattle Model." Of course, this isn't a new concept, but discussion around psychology's privilege was discussed in my break out group (brought up by me, but people really wanted to have that discussion), along with health care reform, psychology's over-focus on the disease model, etc. It was a good way for me to wind up the Summit. Anyway, I wanted to share this with you. Thanks for keeping these discussions going. Tim Popanz

  2. Wow! Thanks so much for writing it and for sharing this article. I find myself musing on the questions you end with – regarding acculturation, remodeling/dismantling --- all on a broader level than the individual level that Ramar, for one, spoke about so poignantly at the Summit. I think you really articulate the tension around broader change – if we dismantle the master’s house, then with what do we replace it? We all still need a place to live and it’s *so hard* to imagine something that none of us have ever, really, seen before --- an absolutely, truly, deeply inclusive multicultural “home.” I like Laura’s notion of remodeling the house, but we know that’s not enough. All that does is change the occupants of a house that is inherently exclusive. I agree with you that the Summit felt, to a large degree, like some serious assimilation is happening in the profession. I worry about losing the “multi” in multiculturalism. As one who also believes in changing the system, at least in part, from within, I am aware of some increasing discomfort as I recognize that moving into the master's house, even if we remodel it, is NOT the same thing as changing the way we live.