The fifth National Multicultural Conference and Summit, held in Seattle, Jan. 24-26, focused on honoring the past and challenging the future.
The busy two-day conference, attended by more than 950 people, many of them students, included four keynote speakers, 85 posters and numerous special programs to recognize the contributions of psychology's elders.
The conference brings together multiple minority groups within psychology, including psychologists of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender psychologists, women psychologists and psychologists with disabilities, and places special emphasis on every person's multiple identities. The conference is sponsored by four 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). Summit coordinators were BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, PhD (chairperson), William Ming Liu, PhD, Helen Neville, PhD, and Arelene Noriega, PhD.
In the first of four keynote addresses, Melba Vasquez, PhD, a member of the APA Board of Directors and an independent practitioner in Austin, Texas, discussed the challenge of conflict among allies. In a candid presentation, Vasquez discussed specific incidents in psychology, APA and a prior summit in which conflict arose between traditionally marginalized groups. Such incidents can be particularly hurtful, said Vasquez, because of an expectation that such groups are like-minded.
"Those of us who are members of marginalized groups within society often ally with one another. We bond for the purpose of transcending oppressive forces....It is particularly painful when marginalized groups, expected to be allies, find themselves in conflict with each other," Vasquez said.
Individual biases and prejudices are often unconscious and at times we can all be either victims or perpetrators, Vasquez stated. "These processes are unconscious-until we work or someone makes us work to raise our consciousness."
Vasquez believes that people who have a history of being marginalized are more easily shamed than those who are traditionally in positions of power, some of whom can have a "diminished perspective-taking ability."
Vazquez outlined a three-step conflict resolution process that included awareness, communication and understanding, and perspective-taking, noting that process and multiple-process models are important when conflict happens between traditionally allied groups. A conflict-resolution process should increase understanding and perspective-taking. It is not about proving who is right and who is wrong.
"We have to listen to one another in an open, non-defensive manner. When we hurt people," Vasquez concluded, "we need to acknowledge and repair the way we have made another person feel.
Rosie Phillips Bingham, PhD, vice president for student affairs at the University of Memphis, delivered the second keynote address on empowerment through inclusion. Bingham told of her public experiences of being a vice president at a major university and of running for APA president as the basis for a discussion of the "stings, aggressions, and little oppressions" all minority group members deal with. These insults and infractions are cumulative, Bingham stated "and for people of multiminority identities, they add up even more."
"We all have blood on the floor," Bingham declared, "but we should all do something larger than fight with each other." She added, "That something larger could be a call for peace in Iraq, for example."
Bingham called for more research on the psychological toll of daily aggressions and oppressions, saying that she believed such research would support our collective lived experiences.
"The isms in our society are deleterious to our health and well-being."
The third keynote speaker, Eduardo Duran, PhD, described his self-admitted unorthodox approach to therapy as the "Columbo" technique (named after the television detective), the practice of asking very simple questions.
Duran recalled that as a student he learned that the Indian Community suffered from spirit wounding-something not referenced in the literature. Consequently, he focused on healing, ceremony and tradition in his work with original peoples, even if doing so meant swimming against the tide of traditional psychology education, he said.
"Soul wound is now called 'intergenerational trauma' and is validated by the numbers," Duran reported.
Duran focused the summit's attention on what he called "clinical racism" in psychology's practice with native people. Explaining that for a native person a clinical diagnosis can be similar to a naming ceremony, he recounted the story of his telling a seriously depressed patient that "the spirit of sadness" was paying her a visit instead of telling her she was a "major depressive." The difference-a visitor doesn't necessarily stay.
Beverly Greene, PhD, a professor of psychology at St. John's University in New York, delivered the final address. Greene spoke forcefully of the "mosaic" of experience that determines who we are and suggested that it is impossible to truly understand people if we look at them via single identity paradigms.
"It becomes impossible to understand people in authentic ways when we carve them up in pieces that are actually connected to one another all the time-both in history and in their personal experiences," Greene stated.
Hierarchies of advantages and disadvantages exist for socially disadvantaged group members, she submitted. Those who are part of a marginalized group within an ethnic-minority group will experience their race differently than will a member of the mainstream or dominant group within that race or culture.
"When the focus of research is on the ethnicity of members of a specific group, all group members should not be regarded as if they share the same experience of their ethnicity. Marginalized members of an ethic minority group may experience their group membership or their ethnic identity as well as their marginalization, within and outside of that ethnic-minority group, very differently than those who are part of the ethnic- minority group's dominant mainstream," Greene stated.
Evidence of differences and similarities of varied experiences of dominant and non-dominant members of a minority group may not surface in the research literature if thought has not been given to the question of multi-identities in research design and analysis. But ignoring the realities of multiple identities can lead to more marginalization for some members of minority groups and only reinforces the marginalization of all minorities by the majority.
"The degree to which other identities transform or color the experience of ethnicity cannot remain unexamined or underestimated," Greene concluded.