I am a first-year doctoral student in the Ecological Community Psychology program. I previously received a Master’s Degree in General Psychology. Additionally, I worked in (too) many field research positions in the context of developmental psychology. It took me 28 years to get to this point, but I finally feel like I’ve found a field that adheres to my values and beliefs, and reifies these principles in action research. Discovering the field of community psychology was serendipitous. I came to learn about the field because I felt dissatisfied with how psychology was remiss in their social duty to address inequities in services and inert in bringing justice to disenfranchised communities. In my experiences, I witnessed ethically painful inequities within communities for youth, and it became apparent how my own personal values conflicted with those of “sound science.” I knew that I needed a new direction in my development as researcher that, at the very least, took action to make communities slightly better by fostering youth development.
Regina Langhout wrote an amazing article, “Considering Community Psychology Competencies: A Love Letter to Budding Scholar-Activists Who Wonder if They Have What It Takes,” where she shares an experience that galvanized an ethical, reflective practice in her development as a researcher. Briefly summarizing, she experiences a situation within her own observational study, where an authoritative figure (i.e., gym teacher) yells vehemently at a group of children without any appropriate reason. These children proceeded to obey the gym teacher regardless of his delivery and conformed to his demands of ten pushups. After completing his pushups, one of the children, who is described as an 8-year-old African American male, walks up to tell her to be careful because the school was not a good place.
In my first experience with a similar evaluation, I was a fairly novice interventionist for a group of four second grade children in a low tier elementary school located in an urban neighborhood in South Florida. We had educational activities and reading sessions, where the purpose of the study was to develop their reading, listening, and comprehension skills. Because resources were so limited, my intervention settings were never in a classroom and always wherever school personnel could squeeze us in (e.g., bench, hallway on floor, etc). This particular day, with our session in the corner of a cafeteria, the school personnel initiated a lockdown. I should preface by saying that I had gone to a private catholic school for most of my life and hardly knew what the process for a lockdown was, let alone ever experienced one in the past. I recall school security yelling at me and the children to stay down and get under the tables. Ignorant as I was of the situation, I had even tried to approach them to ask what was happening, but only got yelled at even more to stay down. Huddled under a cafeteria table with my four 8-year-old African American students, they felt compelled to explain what was happening, and I was shocked at the normalization of this event. They experienced this many times before and were nearly desensitized to the realistic outcomes of the situation. In an attempt to hide my fear and make my students feel safe, I redirected their conversation to other topics and assured them this was for their safety. After a few hours, the lockdown was relieved and we were all safe. I, however, learned more about my students lived experiences and felt helpless in my current position to improve it for them.
Social justice requires us all to engage with every part of our body, the head, hand, and heart (Langhout, 2015). In Langhout’s article, she described her example as a lesson that significantly contributed to her competency development in “heart work.” Building competencies in ethical and reflective practices engage politics of the heart with a transparency of values, assumptions, personal experiences and evaluation of how they influence your research and interpretations of others’ experiences. She later describes her reaction as angry at the privilege unjustly used by the gym teacher and angry at her exclusion from intervening in the situation. Given my example, I, too, felt angry at the unjust circumstances these children endured and angry that I was limited in power and position to improve their environment. Although it was difficult to process for the duration of the project, I also came to understand why I wanted to pursue action research that directly impacted children and communities with similar inequities.
I wanted to be a community psychologist because of these and other firsthand experiences working in the field, where I could not surpass my position, privilege, or power to improve the situation in a sustainable manner. While all aspects of science and facets of psychology have earned a rightful place in our research circle, values of social justice, diversity, and action research are more imperative for social change. Now, I have joined the Community-AID lab, where such values are shared and goals are focused on building better communities for diverse youth populations. The Community-AID Lab is a safe forum for work that develops competencies for our head, hands, and heart needed as community psychologists and future scholars. We aim for diversity in community engagement and project developments, we work to promote public awareness and education for community based organizations, and we engage full-heartedly as activists with our communities.
Citation: 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.Retrievedfromhttp://ezproxy.msu.edu.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/docview/1664225046?accountid=12598