In the Public Interest

Serendipity is a wonderful word that describes the process of looking for one thing but finding another. So serendipity is what I'll use to describe how the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) found itself overseeing social-justice interventions and diversity concerns in Cleveland, Ohio, and Palm Beach, Fla., when it had initially set out to assist APA in valuing diversity within its governance and membership.

In its fall 1997 meeting, BAPPI members engaged in conceptualizing time to allow brainstorming and "thinking outside the box." The ensuing discussion focused on the matter of valuing diversity. Appropriately, the discussion focused on the diversity within APA and psychology, but there was a sense that diversity within APA governance was all too often found in public interest governance.

When found in other governance areas, it tended not to be valued. Said in another way, the presence of people of color, women, lesbians, gays or bisexuals, and so forth, was not often seen as adding value to APA governance discussions and debates. The outcome of the discussion was that BAPPI wanted to begin a process that would help APA to step up how much it values the diversity of its membership.

It was decided that we would pursue grant funding, which would permit BAPPI to begin the process. In 1998, a proposal, "Valuing Diversity: Building Better Communities Through Change," was submitted to the Kellogg Foundation, which has a history of supporting activities such as this. Viewing APA governance as a community seemed a creative idea--one that would certainly influence the foundation to fund the proposal.

As it turned out, Kellogg seemed to take a dim view of investing in organizational change, but thought the ideas merited an elaboration of the community theme and that the proposed project's plans for valuing diversity should rather be applied in communities and neighborhoods outside APA.

So, after much debate, BAPPI accepted the challenge and submitted a proposal that focused on the communities of Cleveland and Palm Beach. Two years after the initial proposal, Kellogg funded the project. But the BAPPI core group that was so instrumental in initiating, revising and refining the project had rotated off the board and were fully engaged in their professional lives--they were still quite interested and concerned, but could not invest more time. Of course, the funding could have been returned, probably not the first time such a thing had happened, but the proposed ideas and activities called for implementation--if not now, when?

A community group, the Association for the Study and Development of Community, recommended by several sources and headed by a psychologist, was contracted to implement the project, and Div. 27 (Society for Community Research and Action) formally appointed several of its members to provide advice and technical assistance. Serendipity was alive and well!

The project, which ended in 2002, was little more than an exploration into valuing diversity at the community level. However, those involved learned that communities across the nation are becoming more diversified. Some are doing this without tension or conflict, while others are threatened by the changes brought by diversity, and still others have confronted these matters and achieved positive outcomes.

BAPPI's valuing diversity project has shown that it is possible to use strategies and tactics derived from one set of communities to help other communities. Information from the project may be viewed at Valuing Diversity.

However, pleasing as it is to write about this serendipitous occurrence in valuing diversity, BAPPI's initial APA focus remains. It is clear that there is probably more diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, disability, aging, and the like, in APA than ever before. But the question remains: How valued is that diversity? Perhaps it is time for others in the association to take another look--not just BAPPI.