In the Public Interest

Within APA there is an increasing emphasis on and valuing of concerns and activities associated with diversity or multicultural issues. This emphasis is welcomed by Public Interest Directorate governance groups and staff, as diversity and multicultural concerns form the core of directorate activities.

In 2002, the Council of Representatives adopted the Multicultural Guidelines as a policy statement of the association. APA CEO Norman Anderson has designated diversity as one of his ongoing points of emphasis, APA President Ron Levant has a presidential initiative on enhancing diversity within APA, and the Board of Directors and Council of Representatives have requested and received diversity training. Major boards and committees will receive similar training next year.

APA and social policy

Diversity/multiculturalism in this instance is not a code word for ethnic minorities or people of color, but also includes age, disability, gender, sexual orientation and, for the first time in a very long time at APA, religion. This look at religious matters initially will focus on Islam and Judaism, stimulated by a variety of factors, including U.S. responses to terrorism, the military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and conflict in the Middle East. Many of the positions being taken by APA are important as a way of indicating its current stance on those issues, as well as providing information and guidance to the membership, and serve as the fundamental basis for development of public policy advocacy.

Yet, the APA membership consists of a wide range of educators, scientists and practitioners who may often differ with each other, particularly about whether the association should be in the social justice business at all. On the one hand, there are psychologists who feel quite strongly that APA should be highly visible in using psychological knowledge in advocating for issues of social justice, while there are others who feel at least as strongly that the association has no business in that arena but should confine itself to the production of knowledge, education and training of students, and treatment of patients.

Changing times

It is the "no business" response that crystallizes that primary challenge for those who advocate for diversity within APA, in psychology and within the public sphere. Within the behavioral and social sciences, for example, the diversity research needs to be enhanced both by researcher interest and by funding. For a nation that is fast becoming a pluralistic society, one might wonder why research ideas, research subjects and researchers themselves continue to look much as they did in the 1960s.

The same could be said of the pipeline into the field, in which departmental and school faculties, curricular content and students strongly resemble those of some bygone era, seemingly unaffected by the diversity or multiculturalism of the 21st century. The educational endeavor seems geared to provide more psychologists trained to research, teach and meet the service needs of an ever-shrinking segment of the population (a strategy that even General Motors has discarded). Diversity concerns within the practitioner community, also not reflective of the demographic changes within the nation, are addressed often out of necessity, but not from a set of multicultural competencies gained through rigorous, focused education and training efforts.

Almost all aspects of diversity are receiving short shrift. Textbooks have little to say about aging, disability, gender, sexual orientation or race/ethnicity. One reason, of course, is that the research effort has not changed or responded to the demographic changes and the resultant needs within the country. In many instances, the curricula have not been modified to reflect the increasing diversity, so that graduates are not adequately prepared to become professionally involved with the psychological needs of an aging population, adept in responding to lesbian, gay or bisexual concerns, conversant with gender concerns, etc.

However, the most obvious demographic change is the growing proportion of persons of color within the U.S. and the relative failure of graduate and professional education in psychology to address that reality. For example, within the psychologist communities of color (African American, American Indian, Asian American, Latino/a), none is more than 3 percent of the total number of psychologists, and their aggregate numbers are estimated to be slightly above 6 percent.

APA has addressed many aspects of diversity and is likely to continue. APA members who work in the research, educational and service settings have been slow in addressing diversity in almost any of its forms and the prospects for their doing so in the future are uncertain. It is said that one way to predict future behavior is to look at past behavior, though one would hope that psychologists would respond to the association's leadership in the area of diversity or multiculturalism.