Three graduate psychology programs recognized for encouraging diversity will serve as national models, says APA's Past-president Richard M. Suinn, PhD.

The counseling psychology program at Ohio State University, the counseling/clinical/school psychology program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the clinical psychology program at The City University of New York were honored with APA's Suinn Minority Achievement Awards.

The award, given for the first time last year, recognizes graduate psychology programs that have demonstrated excellence in recruiting, retaining and graduating ethnic-minority students. These three programs, located in diverse geographic areas, found unique ways to recognize and encourage diversity that fit their environments, says Suinn.

"I hope that schools that are interested in promoting diversity education and recruitment will call these programs and ask them to share their experiences," he says.

Many schools struggle to find ways to encourage diversity, Suinn says, but often don't feel they know how.

Suinn is familiar with this dilemma because he served as chair of APA's Commission on Ethnic Minority Recruitment, Retention and Training in Psychology. The commission's final report, "Visions and Transformations," issued in 1997, found that only 13 percent of graduate students in psychology were persons of color. Further, minority students graduating with a doctoral degree composed only 9.4 percent of all the recipients of this degree. Finally, few programs surveyed appeared to have established a curriculum environment supportive of multicultural topics.

"One of the reasons for creating the award is to encourage the programs that are actively recognizing diversity and improve recruitment," says Suinn. " Talking about these programs and what they're doing will allow other programs to say, 'This is possible. Here's what other people are doing, and we can tailor it to our own programs.'"

Increasing ethnic-minority recruitment is important, says Suinn, because studies show that students exposed to greater racial and ethnic diversity in college exhibit enhanced intellectual skills. Improving curricula is particularly important, he says, because demographic forecasts predict that psychologists will need to increase their cultural competence, and that much of their practice and research will involve other cultures in the future.

APA will present the award each year for at least the next nine years to continue to encourage diversity. In its first year, the award drew 33 nominations. Winners stood out on three criteria:

  • The department's overall commitment to diversity and ethnic-minority recruitment and retention.
  • The percentage of ethnic-minority students in the program.
  • The percentage of ethnic-minority students awarded doctorates from the program in the last five years.

"The criteria for the award emphasize actions and achievements rather than promises," says Suinn.

Honorable mentions recognized the clinical psychology program at the University of Missouri, the psychology department at Texas A&M University and the psychology department at Oklahoma State University.

Recruiting minorities

The Ohio State program, for example, illustrates how schools outside a diverse community can successfully recruit ethnic minorities.

Currently, the program has 37 graduate students, of which 17 (47 percent) are ethnic minorities, says Bruce Walsh, PhD, director of the counseling psychology program. Over the past five years, 13 ethnic-minority students (30 percent) earned a PhD.

But, Walsh admits, recruiting such students hasn't been easy for Ohio State.

"We're in the Midwest," says Walsh, "so if we're going to get them to come here, we're going to have to work at it."

The school has a number of outreach programs designed to attract ethnic-minority students. For instance, each year faculty members and ethnic-minority graduate students visit historically African-American colleges such as Spelman College in Atlanta and Howard University in Washington, D.C., to tout Ohio State's program. The school also offers a fellowship program for ethnic-minority students that guarantees funding for the length of the program.

Ethnic-minority students who can't decide whether to enroll at Ohio State are encouraged to visit the campus, says Walsh, and receive $250 toward expenses. If they agree to attend Ohio State, they're assigned an advisor as well as an advanced minority graduate student to serve as a mentor to help them adapt.

In comparison, City University (CUNY) in New York City, doesn't need to actively recruit ethnic-minority students because of its location and reputation. Since 1969, between 25 percent and 40 percent of the doctoral students in its clinical psychology program have been ethnic minorities, says Steven Tuber, PhD, director of the doctoral program in clinical psychology. The program accepts about a dozen students each year and usually four or five are ethnic minorities, he says.

"We've been able to graduate our students of color with the same degree of speed and competence as our white students," Tuber says.

The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), worked to establish a recruitment base by developing a reputation for cultural diversity by hiring faculty members who have published research on diversity issues, including acculturation and at-risk Latino children, says J. Manuel Casas, PhD, professor of counseling psychology. Many of the faculty members are considered pioneers in the fields of cross-cultural research and multicultural counseling.

Over the past five years, 58 percent of UCSB psychology program admissions have been ethnic minorities, says Merith Cosden, PhD, director of training and program leader of the counseling/clinical/school psychology program. The department also recognizes other forms of diversity by encouraging students who are gay, or who have a disability, to apply.

Providing a diverse education

Diversity education is also an important part of these programs. Each program boasts a diverse faculty that integrates multiculturalism in all graduate courses.

At UCSB, for instance, 30 percent of the faculty are ethnic minorities. UCSB also has adapted its class on the historical and philosophical foundations of psychology to include women and minorities.

"We expose students to the idea that minority psychologists have been around for some time, but the social and political conditions didn't allow them to work in a university setting," says Casas.

Meanwhile, CUNY requires its students to take three courses that focus on diversity issues. These courses send a message that diversity education is as important as research or psychotherapy, says Tuber.

First-year students take a course that explores how their own biases about color, diversity and gender can affect their training. Students are also required to take a class on ethnicity and mental health that reviews the psychological literature on how diversity and social class can affect psychotherapy.

In an advanced clinical course, students discuss the issues that may arise in treatment when a therapist and patient are from different cultural backgrounds. For instance, he says, students learn how to react to behaviors that are appropriate in the patient's culture, but abnormal in their own culture. They also discuss how cultural differences can affect the therapist's and the patient's understanding of the problem.

All three programs also try to expose their students to multiracial clinical populations. Students at Ohio State University and UCSB partner with local agencies to work with diverse groups. UCSB encourages students to collaborate with Head Start programs, local schools where a majority of the students are from ethnic-minority groups and community agencies serving abused children from diverse backgrounds and their families. Ohio State students work with state agencies and facilities, such as a Veterans Administration hospital, a community mental health program and a correctional facility.

In comparison, CUNY students are exposed to a multiracial population at the school's clinic, which is located in Harlem, a diverse New York City neighborhood.

Diversity education "is not about creating an easy solution," says Tuber, "It's much more about the struggle to be aware of and sensitive to the ways people are different."

APA is currently accepting nominations for the Suinn Awards from graduate students for 2000. See page 75 for details.

"The criteria for the award emphasize actions and achievements rather than promises."

Richard M. Suinn

APA's 1999 President