Feature

Nearly 800 psychologists and mental health professionals, ranging from early leaders of ethnic-minority psychology to graduate students, gathered in Hollywood, Calif., Jan. 23-25, for the 2003 National Multicultural Conference and Summit.

The two-day conference, hosted by APA Divs. 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women), 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues) and 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues), provided "a personal experience that you just don't see in other conferences," says Steven E. James, PhD, the summit's lead coordinator and chair of the psychology and counseling department at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt. Other summit coordinators were Jean Lau Chin, EdD, Luis Vazquez, PhD, William Parham, PhD, and Lisa Porche-Burke, PhD.

According to them, the conference is unique in its focus, its size and its attention to person-to-person contact.

The conference included keynote addresses by psychologist Gordon L. Berry, EdD, on the influence of media portrayals, licensed social worker Terry Cross on the power of culture in coping, writer and actress Amy Hill on her life as a member of a multicultural family, and psychologist Martha E. Banks, PhD, on families coping with disabilities. Conference attendees were also encouraged to participate in "Difficult Dialogues"--roundtable discussions on a variety of subjects ranging from ethnicity and sexual orientation to able-bodiedness and religious and spiritual issues.

The conference's opening session celebrated the progress psychology has made in the areas of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disabilities and also focused on the work yet to be done. "This summit summarizes 30 years of hard work by a lot of people," James Jones, PhD, director of APA's Minority Fellowship Program, told the opening session audience.

Thomas Parham, PhD, led a ceremony to recognize the progress of multicultural psychology and the adoption of APA's multicultural guidelines passed by APA's Council of Representatives last August.

"There was a time when I remember there was little evidence of multicultural competency in counseling psychology," said Parham, a faculty member at the University of California, Irvine. "Isn't it wonderful to find 800-1,000 people banging at the door to attend a multicultural conference?"

Summit organizers set their sights on the future and worked to encourage student participation in the conference. With the financial assistance of APA's Minority Fellowship Program, travel fellowships allowed 20 students to participate. Many local students attended as well.

Television's responsibility

In the opening keynote address, Gordon L. Berry told attendees that a "minority majority" is a near certainty by the middle of this century. Calling race a "social construct," he said that all societal institutions need to embrace the principles of cultural pluralism.

Emphasizing that all human beings are remarkably alike, Berry said that people have much more in common than not, but, "'isms' and our history have created the need for race awareness, race identity and race competency."

Berry, who is a professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and has spent decades studying media and social issues, talked about the "special attractiveness and power" that television has for children, with both good and bad outcomes.

According to Berry, because a young person graduating from high school will have spent as much time watching television as engaging in any other activity, except sleep, "TV competes with other traditional socialization agents, including school and the family." Berry added, "What children see on TV becomes what they believe about themselves and others."

Multiculturally balanced programming can teach children to appreciate and get along with all types of people, said Berry, noting that "gatekeepers of this medium have a special responsibility to be aware of the message being given to kids by TV."

Berry cited research by the California organization Children Now, which shows that television teaches children that whites have money, are well-educated and do well in school, while people of color break the law, are lazy, have financial difficulties and are goofy. "One TV character is not the problem," he said. "It's the redundancy of the profiles and images that can corrupt the child's thinking."

Drawing attention to yet another minority group--people with disabilities--was research neuropsychologist Martha Banks, who spoke about the challenges for families who care for a family member with a disability.

Noting 2000 U.S. Census data indicating that 19.2 percent of adult Americans 21-64 years old have a disability and 41.2 percent of Americans older than 64 are disabled, Banks said that, "when a sudden shift happens from an able person to a disabled person, the family often isn't ready to provide the needed assistance." And, she said, too often acute-care physicians give families an unrealistic prognosis of when the patient will return to "normal."