Racism, religious bigotry, sexism/heterosexism and other forms of cultural oppression and social injustice continue to adversely impact the psychological well-being and healthy development of millions of persons all across the United States. There are individual, organizational-institutional and cultural manifestations of these problems.
Individual forms of racism, religious bigotry and sexism/heterosexism continue to garner the most attention from the media and in the general public. Examples include media coverage of the recent Don Imus controversy (see our column in the May 2007 issue), the Jena Six controversy in Louisiana (see our August 2007 column), the recent incident of a noose being hung on a Black professor’s office door at Columbia University, the subsequent painting of a swastika on a Jewish professor’s door at the same university and the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student in Wyoming. Perhaps even more insidious than these acts of individual injustice are the perpetuation of more complex and impactful forms of organizational-institutional and cultural racism, religious bigotry, sexism/heterosexism and other forms of cultural oppression.
Our own research indicates that counselors by and large respond to these and other forms of social injustice in three general ways.
Apathetic avoidance. The most common way that many counselor educators, practitioners and students deal with forms of cultural oppression is to move into a state of apathetic avoidance. Researchers such as Derald Wing Sue, Janet Helms, Robert Carter and others have described how counselors’ racial/cultural identity development contributes to the manifestation of such apathy and avoidance despite the increasing evidence of racism, religious bigotry, sexism/heterosexism and other culturally based injustices in our society.
Active resistance. In short, these individuals exhibit strong and active resistance to the suggestion that the counselor’s professional role includes working to ameliorate the injustices listed earlier. We have also observed that some individuals who initially appear to exhibit apathetic avoidance will shift into a mode of active resistance when discussions are initiated about the counselor’s responsibility and role in dealing with these problems.
Open advocacy. We have noted a growing number of persons actively involved in implementing counseling and advocacy services designed to ameliorate complex problems of cultural oppression and social injustices in their work endeavors. The large number of multicultural-social justice programs at several of the past ACA conventions, as well as the emphasis on social justice presentations at the October 2007 Association for Counselor Education and Supervision conference in Columbus, Ohio, signify that an increasing number of counselors and counselor educators are exhibiting open advocacy for the important role our profession can play in addressing these complex problems.
In light of the recent and escalating assaults on the dignity of such persons as Madonna Constantine (an African American professor subjected to the noose hanging at Columbia University) and Elizabeth Midlarsky (a Jewish professor at Columbia), professional counselors are planning to initiate a national project to address these and related injustices. Participants include members of the American Counseling Association, the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development, Counselors for Social Justice and the National Institute for Multicultural Competence. This national project, which will be initiated in February 2008, represents another example of open advocacy.
A national discussion
Counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals can play important roles in addressing and preventing the adverse psychosocial impact of racism, religious bigotry, xenophobia and other forms of oppression such as sexism, heterosexism, classism, ageism, ableism and so on. To help these professionals become more knowledgeable about what is being done in various communities across the United States to address these issues, NIMC is initiating the National Discussion on Race, Peace and Justice Project. This project involves sponsoring a series of two-hour town hall meetings focused on a broad range of issues related to race, justice and peace, both in our nation and within the counseling profession.
These town hall meetings are designed to serve a threefold purpose:
1. Stimulating discussion about the ways that racism and other forms of cultural oppression continue to be manifested in communities across our nation.
2. Encouraging persons in diverse communities across the United States to describe the psychosocial impact of racism and other forms of cultural oppression manifested in our society.
3. Identifying specific roles and strategies that counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals can implement to foster a greater level of sanity, justice and peace in our nation by ameliorating the complex problems of racism and other forms of cultural oppression.
The first in a series of national town hall meetings will take place in February 2008 at the Annual Winter Roundtable at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Initiating this national project at this conference in New York City is an important step in addressing the concerns that many counselors have about racism and cultural oppression in general and the recent hate acts at Columbia University in particular. A second town hall meeting to continue the National Discussion on Race, Peace and Justice is being planned to coincide with the ACA Conference in Honolulu in March. Tentative plans are also being made for a third town hall meeting to be held in Boston in August 2008 during the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. Locations for additional town hall meetings will be announced in the future.
Town hall format
The general format for the two-hour town hall meetings will be as follows:
- (15 minutes) Introductions by the town hall organizers and facilitators; statement of the purpose of this event, outlining the ways in which the town hall meeting will proceed and announcement of future action plans
- (60 minutes) Soliciting input from students, faculty members, mental health professionals and persons from the communities where the town hall meetings are being held regarding (1) specific ways that racism and other forms of cultural oppression continue to be manifested in their local communities, (2) the psychosocial impact these problems have on members of their communities and (3) the projects currently under way to address these injustices
- (30 minutes) Soliciting input from students, faculty members and persons from the communities regarding the specific roles and functions professional counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals can play in ameliorating the complex problems of racism and other forms of cultural oppression in ways that foster justice and peace in our society
- (15 minutes) Summary of the town hall meeting by the NIMC organizers and facilitators
In addition to facilitating these town hall meetings, the event’s organizers will work with faculty members, students and professionals in the communities where the meetings are being held who might be interested in conducting a qualitative research study of this national project. Four specific questions will be addressed by using qualitative research methods.
Research Question #1: How are the complex problems of racism and other forms of cultural oppression manifested in this community?
Research Question #2: What is the psychosocial impact of racism and other forms of cultural oppression on the persons who make up this community?
Research Question #3: What projects/services are currently being implemented to address the problem of racism and other social injustices that continue to be perpetuated in this community?
Research Question #4: What specific roles can professional counselors, psychologists and other mental health professionals play in fostering a greater level of sanity by ameliorating the complex problems of racism and other forms of cultural oppression in our country in general and within this community in particular?
Research teams will be selected from among students, faculty members and mental health professionals from each of the locations where these events are being held. Selected researchers will be asked to participate in analysis of the qualitative data generated from this study as well as the publication of the results in professional counseling and psychology journals. Another possibility is collaborating to publish a book that reports on this project.
The facilitators of the first town hall meeting to be held in New York City in February 2008 include:
- Edil Torres Rivera, immediate past president of Counselors for Social Justice
- Thomas Parham, former president of the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development
- Michael D’Andrea, president of the Hawaii Counselors Association
- Judy Daniels, National Institute for Multicultural Competence Executive Committee member
- Cirecie West-Olatunji, president of the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development
- Madonna Constantine, multicultural-social justice advocate and professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College
For more information about this national project, contact Michael D’Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org.