Feature

Part scholarly meeting, part town hall forum and part family reunion, the 4th National Multicultural Conference and Summit brought 700 attendees to Hollywood, Calif., Jan. 27-28.

The summit, hosted by APA Divs. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology), 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), focused on the psychology of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disability. Throughout the two-day meeting, organizers also emphasized recognizing the work of elders in multicultural psychology and mentoring today's psychology students.

"We come here today as a whole to mentor each other, especially our young career people, and to honor the elders. We're here to remember where we came from and where we are going. We're here today to remember that no one does it alone," summit coordinator Luis Vazquez, PhD, told a packed room at the summit's opening ceremony. Vazquez is the head of the counseling and educational psychology department at New Mexico State University. Other summit coordinators were Bravada Garrett-Akinsanya, PhD (Plymouth, Minn.), William Parham, PhD (University of California, Los Angeles), and Angela Gillem, PhD (Arcadia University).

Strength out of adversity

In the summit's first keynote address, Derald Wing Sue, PhD, discussed his experiences and those of other people of color living in what he describes as "primarily a monocultural and racially biased society." He outlined a number of ways that adversities have made minority individuals and communities stronger and the lessons that majority Americans could learn from members of minority groups. The dilemma, according to Sue, is how to educate majority people that their actions are discriminatory when they deny committing such discrimination.

Sue, a professor in the psychology department at Teachers College of Columbia University and the author of "Overcoming Racism: The Journey to Liberation" (John Wiley & Sons, 2003), stated that his message of strengths grown out of adversities is important for both white America and for people of color.

While racism is a "constant reality, a constant toxicity" in the lives of people of color, minority groups have survived because of their unique cultural values and strengths, Sue said.

"We have survived through our cultural values that have immunized us against the toxic forces of racism," he explained. "Our perseverance in battling the forces of racism comes from understanding the strengths and assets developed by our ancestors as they fought oppression and from our cultural values, mores and traditions."

Sue added that the life experiences of minority Americans have required them to "sharpen their survival skills to such a degree that they have become assets."

SUE'S ADVERSITY STRENGTHS

  • Heightened perceptual wisdom

  • Nonverbal communication competency

  • Bicultural flexibility

  • Cultural strengths of collectivism; racial and ethnic pride; spirituality and religion; the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit

  • Family and community being highly valued

Considering complexities

In a second keynote address, husband and wife Nancy Boyd-Franklin, PhD, and Anderson J. Franklin, PhD, discussed working with African-American couples and the issues they bring to therapy. According to the Franklins, African-American couples have the issues that all couples have, but they also bring the dynamics and experiences of being African American to therapy.

"People don't walk in the office with a sign that says, 'this raises issues as a black man for me,' but that's very much in the room," Anderson Franklin said.

The couples we work with live in a multicultural society and reflect its complexities, he said, and added, "Our discipline must fully represent that complexity of the lives of the couples we work with."

'A new psychotherapy'

In a final keynote address filled with frankness, pathos and humor, Oliva Espin, PhD, a professor emerita at San Diego State University and the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, detailed the multiple and often contradictory identities that all people have and how they affect and must be acknowledged within the therapeutic relationship.

Espin described her own struggles with her multiple identities as an immigrant, a person of color, a Latina, a woman, a lesbian and as a religious person in psychology--and with psychology's ignorance of cultural difference when she first entered the field as a psychology undergraduate in the 1960s.

"When I started my life as a psychology student, cultural and gender differences did not exist for psychology except as individual differences," she explained. "My own personal experiences have been shaped by the transgression of borders. The issue has been to find room for my multiple selves...Learning to claim who you are, not just what is acceptable to those around you, is necessary for healthy development."

Espin acknowledged progress in multicultural psychology from her days as a student when identity was taught as a whole, but also sees much more work that needs to be done.

"Creating a new psychotherapy with and for oppressed people is our lives' work," she told her audience. But she further warned that "to look at individual differences while ignoring power differentials has been one of the marks of psychology. In fact, psychological theories that focus on the person rather than the social context are still used as a tool to gloss over the impact of societal power structures on the individual."