Education Leadership Conference

Attendees at the 2005 ELC were the first American audience to preview a draft of the Universal Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychology-which psychologists worldwide may use, among other professional goals, to help establish cultural competence in psychology training, practice and research. The declaration comes from the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS), which in 2002 set out to create a generic set of moral principles that international psychology organizations can use as a template to develop or revise their ethical codes and standards.

Presenting the draft was Canadian psychologist Janel Gauthier, PhD-joined at the session by three other panelists who spoke on how psychology educators can better reflect diversity in their research and teaching.

Gauthier explained how the ethical principles grew out of a workgroup effort of IUPsyS, the International Association of Applied Psychology and the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology. The workgroup included representatives from Canada, Iran, Singapore, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, China, Colombia, Finland and the United States.

"[The declaration] will serve as a shared moral framework for representatives of the psychology community to speak with a collective voice on matters of ethical concern," said Gauthier, former president of the Canadian Psychological Association and apsychology professor at Laval University in Quebec, at the ELC session.

Gauthier added that the document will give psychology a common basis for evaluating alleged unethical behavior, but noted that it should not be misconstrued as a worldwide ethics or conduct code.

The declaration states psychologists' commitment to the welfare of all people and respect for local communities, indigenous values and national and cultural differences, Gauthier said. One principle, for example, addresses privacy, confidentiality, nondiscrimination and consent. The workgroup has presented the principles at several international meetings to gain feedback, and APA's Ethics Office has been provided drafts as well. For updates on the universal declaration, which is in its ninth draft, visit

Promoting diversity in psychology

Other speakers at the session emphasized the importance of cultural diversity across education and research domains. For example, psychologist Luis A. Vargas, PhD, of the University of New Mexico, said that psychology should give it the same importance and attention as behavior or emotion.

However, Vargas questioned whether "cultural competence" is the best concept for psychology. He highlighted three aspects related to cultural competence-framing psychology as a science, isolating culture as a variable and considering psychology's cult of expertise. In describing psychology's cult of expertise-a term originally coined by political philosopher John Ralston Saul, PhD-Vargas said that psychology's control of knowledge in such expertise areas as cultural competence can lead to fragmentation when specialist groups do not share their knowledge with the rest of the field. As a result, divisions, committees and organizations for culturally diverse psychologists, for example, may inadvertently compartmentalize their knowledge of areas from nonminority groups. Therefore, many nonminority psychologists may feel absolved from the responsibility of attending to culture in their research, teaching and practice, Vargas said.

To prevent that from happening, Vargas suggested that all areas of psychology and APA divisions increase interdivisional activities and interdisciplinary efforts.

"Psychology would do well to integrate knowledge from other fields and other epistemologies into psychological theories, research and practice," he said. He encouraged psychologists to collaborate with researchers from such disciplines as anthropology, social work, sociology, political science, international law and business, and public health.

Another speaker, Donna Mertens, PhD, an education professor at Gallaudet University, emphasized the importance of cultural competence when conducting research.

"We need to [begin a] dialogue with a community before we do research to understand the culture," said Mertens, who conducts research on people who are deaf. She emphasized that researchers who first learn about the community they want to study can better select a research methodology reflective of that community's culture.

Transforming classrooms

Developing cultural competence may start at the undergraduate and even high school levels: Psychology can better arm future researchers and practitioners with culturally sensitive skills if its teachers transform their curricula to incorporate classroom discussions about cultural differences, said A. Toy Caldwell-Colbert, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Howard University. When she served as an assistant vice president for academic affairs at Indiana State University, she helped coordinate a university-wide undergraduate curriculum transformation project to infuse issues of diversity and globalization into general education. Indiana State launched the initiative to accommodate students' changing demographics and need to be better prepared to work in a diverse society.

At ELC, Caldwell-Colbert suggested faculty weave cultural- and ethnic-diversity content into their syllabi and course objectives, consider diversity in student learning styles and select teachings from culturally inclusive materials or textbooks. She also advised departments to conduct cultural climate studies at the departmental level with faculty and students and hold faculty training sessions to address diversity, based on what was learned from those studies. She urged faculty to help students connect with each other via their culture and ethnicity, adding that this requires faculty to create a democratic and safe environment in which difficult dialogues about diversity can occur.

"We must commit ourselves as educators and professionals to embracing transformed classrooms that [teach] multicultural competence," Caldwell-Colbert said. "In turn, mental health professionals will appreciate the value of diverse voices-voices that must be heard, better understood and more appropriately responded to."