International Perspectives Presented at the Greater New York Conference on Behavioral Research

The 23rd Annual Greater New York Conference on Behavioral Research convened in November with a growing number of sessions that focused on the international aspects of psychology.

By Judy Kuriansky and Emily Lawson

Conference presenters and organizers at the 23rd Annual Greater New York Conference on Behavioral ResearchPsychologists, faculty and students from over 20 institutions convened in New York City for the 23rd Annual Greater New York Conference on Behavioral Research on November 20, 2011 at the Lander College for Women. The one-day conference consisted of scientific panels, an awards ceremony and a reception with international guests of honor. Sessions addressed a range of issues in behavioral science including cognition and behavior, social issues, health issues and sexuality, with many sessions having an international focus given growing interest in international aspects of psychology.

For example, internationalizing the curriculum is a topic of ongoing interest. In the panel on “Internationalizing Our Courses: Why and How,” chaired by Mercedes McCormick of Pace University, Uwe Gielen of St. Francis College described activities and successes of the Institute for International and Cross-Cultural Psychology (IICCP), established in 1998 at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York. With the goal to “foster the internationalization of the science of psychology,” the program has hosted many conferences on international topics and offers specialized honors courses (e.g. international migration) that form a blueprint for internationalizing psychology curricula. Students in the program are required to speak two languages. The IICCP is sponsoring a conference “Toward Global Psychology” on April 12-14, 2012 in New York.

Fordham University psychology professor Harold Takooshian described teaching resources including websites (e.g. Division of International Psychology and APA's Office of International Affairs) specifying search fields in PsychLit; journals (e.g. International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation); international conferences (e.g. the International Congress of Psychology); internet technology innovations (e.g. synchronous video projections); courses (e.g. at Illinois State University, Webster University, and the University of Hawaii); and books. Introductory psychology books are excellent resources, he said, given competition among publishers to include material about international psychology in their texts. He cited the text by Michael Eysenck and edited books like Stevens & Wedding’s Handbook of International Psychology and Stevens & Gielen’s Toward a Global Psychology: Theory, Research, Interventions, and Pedagogy.

Panelist Patrick Sciarretta, editor of the NGO Reporter published by the United Nations Department of Public Information, focused on the importance of youth involvement in international development. Working with the UN to mobilize youth interest in the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Sciarratta’s NGO, Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, sponsors an annual Youth Assembly held at UN headquarters. The upcoming 10th Annual Youth Assembly January 18-20, 2012 focuses on how to leverage new technologies, via the TEDx conference, to promote the MDGs. With the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations as the lead endorser, it will also be the first Youth Assembly to have a head of state, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, address the participants. Panelists include youth leaders, UN officials, social entrepreneurs and NGO experts and activists, such as the founder of the NGOs End Poverty Now and Networks for Change; the founder of Peace Child International, and the producers of the documentary series “Women, War and Peace.” A pre-conference Leadership Exchange will be held at Fairleigh-Dickinson College for youth under 28 years of age interested in participating in the youth assembly.

A panel on “Cross-National Service” chaired by Professor and Associate Dean at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service Dr. Elaine Congress, addressed a full-tocapacity room about projects in various countries. One of Congress’ students, Doctoral Candidate in Social Work Jade de Saussure, highlighted the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), consistent with the goals of the organization she works with, “What Better Looks Like,” which aims to “foster the development of beloved community by helping individuals imagine, articulate and create visions for a better world.” Asking the audience, “Are you willing to be uncomfortable?” she then posed, “When you think of the Congo, is there anything positive that comes to mind besides thoughts about poverty, genital mutilation and violence?” The Congolese are in pain, she explained, and since a mineral from the Congo is in cell phones, “Everyone who has a cell phone is carrying around a little piece of their pain.” The international community must go into the local community and work together with the people, she said, rather than stay in the ivory tower of a hotel. Pointing out how women have been raped as a tool of war (affirmed by UN Resolution 1325), she implored that “Women are begging the international community to pay attention.” After one 4,000-person march that received no press, one woman said, “I’m sorry for whatever we did that you are ignoring us.” In her efforts to bring attention to the plight of the people in the Congo (including a trip there anticipated on International Women’s Day) to empower the Congolese people and to treat them with respect, de Saussure made an impassioned plea that “You have a responsibility to help but not with your head looking down [at the people] but straight ahead- as equals.”

Arnaldo Salinas, Director of Archangel Security and a founding father of the Guardian Angels, described his company’s security operations, programs and schools they developed in countries such as Mexico, Haiti and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He emphasized the importance of teaching children – especially those in violent and impoverished areas - - that “they have the moral and ethical responsibility to be good citizens.” Echoing the words of de Saussure, he said that empowerment and pride go a long way to improve lives in these regions. Salinas knows this process first-hand, relating that as a troubled nine-year old growing up in the South Bronx, a teacher cared enough about him to tell him, “I’m going to channel your energy in a positive manner.” The teacher then put a belt on him and made him a class monitor, setting the stage for his future commitment to security work and to inspiring other youth to redirect their lives from getting involved in gangs to doing community service promoting safety. “We all can change the world,” he concluded.

Judy Kuriansky, main UN NGO rep for the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP) and Father Wismick Jean-Charles (IAAP representative and PhD candidate at Fordham University), presented a review of their humanitarian efforts in Haiti. Before the earthquake, they worked with UN-ADR/FUNGLODE to decrease tensions between Dominican and Haitian Youth. After the earthquake, they initiated psychological first aid projects, collaborating with local community, religious and hospital groups. Follow-up projects incorporated cultural elements into workshops for children. For example, their Global Kids Connect Project connects children in trauma zones for mutual support through stress reduction techniques, cultural activities, geography lessons, and exchange of “contact comfort” stuffed toys with messages of caring and hope. The project was also carried out in Japan after the tsunami/earthquake and at a major hospital in New York before the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Father Wismick described the new Center for Spirituality and Mental Health launched last summer, with a two-day conference of spiritual leaders, held in Port-au-Prince Haiti. The mission is to promote local capacity and to empower faith-based organizations and other agencies and healthcare professionals to respond to complex spiritual and psychological problems of individuals and communities affected by natural disasters, domestic violence, political terror, and chronic poverty.

An interactive Skype presentation with Dr. Noach Milgram of Tel Aviv, Israel on the psychology of anti-SemitismAn interactive Skype presentation was featured in a session on “The Psychology of Anti-Semitism: A cross-national dialogue.” Co-chairs Rivka Bertisch Meir and Michael Meir, Dean at TCI College of Technology, conducted a live interview from Tel Aviv, Israel, with Dr. Noach Milgram, Professor Emeritus from Tel Aviv University. Explains Rivka, “The Skype session serves as a model for other conferences offering a unique opportunity in this age of modern technology to connect students and professionals with international experts, thus facilitating valuable international discussion on timely topics of international importance.”

A panel on ethnic psychology included a presentation on 30 years of the Greek American Behavioral Science Institute and the first decade of the Italian American Psychology Assembly. And in a session on International Mentoring, students described their experiences in various traumarelated humanitarian outreach and research projects supervised by Ani Kalayjian, founder and president of ATOP Meaningfulworld. These included field work in Haiti and Romania, as well as a project addressing bullying.

Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Dinesh Sharma, Senior Fellow at the IICCP at St. Francis College, signed copies of his new book chronicling the international roots of American President Barack Obama, Barack Obama in Hawai’i and Indonesia: The Making of a Global President (ABC-CLIO, 2011). The book gives unique insights into the psychology of the world leader.

At the closing reception, medals acknowledging outstanding contributions were bestowed upon six guests of honor.  Awardees included Vladimir Stroh, Dean of Psychology, and Evgeny Osin, Deputy Dean, both from State U. Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia.

The conference was hosted by Touro College (Dean Louis Primavera) and Lander College for Women, with Rivka Bertisch Meir as conference chair and Harold Takooshian as conference director. Several psychological organizations endorsed the conference including the Society for Psychological Study of Social Issues, Association for Psychological Science, American Psychological Society, APA International Division, APA Society for General Psychology, Eastern Psychological Association, Manhattan Psychological Association, METRO Applied Psychologists, New York State Psychological Association, Psi Beta, and Psi Chi. For further information, contact: email or call (212) 636-6393.

About the Authors

Judy Kuriansky, PhD, APA Division 52 CIRP Liaison and UN NGO Representative, International Association of Applied Psychology; and Emily Lawson, NYU graduate student and IAAP UN intern.