Terrence Roberts Speaks on Racism, Resilience

American Psychological Association Annual Conference APA Washington DC

Photo by Lloyd Wolf

In 1957, Terrence James Roberts and eight other teenagers became the first black students to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The nine of us were subjected to a year of sheer hell,” said Roberts at APA’s Committee on Ethnic and Minority Affairs’ breakfast Saturday, where he was awarded a presidential citation by APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD. “Whatever you might possibly consider that one human being could do to another, that happened to us — daily.”

Through resilience and faith, Roberts eventually graduated from Los Angeles High School and went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as a PhD in clinical psychology in 1976. In 1999, he and the other members of the Little Rock Nine were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bill Clinton. Roberts is now retired from the faculty of the Antioch University Los Angeles and is principal of the management consulting firm Terrence Roberts Consulting.

Although things have changed for black Americans in the United States since Roberts’ high school days – and have changed in large part due to his and others’ courage – they haven’t changed enough, he said.

“The law is now on my side, but still I am forced daily to contend daily with the ongoing violence of social and cultural exclusion, demeaning ideological belief systems, invidious institutional practices, implacable psychological barriers, ahistorical and pseudoscientific research designed to support claims of white supremacy and well-meaning others who suggest that I ‘overreact,’” he said.

Roberts challenged the audience to “do all [you] can do to change this pernicious status quo,” he said

“Instead of despair, I offer you the opportunity to learn as much as you can, develop a strategy and intervention, and move forward confidently with the assurance that whatever you do will, in concert with what others do, be sufficient to alter the course of history.”

Stronger Together: How to Build Resilience to Community Violence

riskandresilience

What strengths-based solutions can psychologists develop in response to community violence? A panel of psychologists who work with widely disparate groups tackled this question for the Public Interest collaborative program — “Risk and Resilience – Overcoming Exposure to Community Violence.” What common thread united each of the panelists’ work? The importance of resilience in addressing each group’s needs.

Dr. Karen Roberto found that intimate partner violence (IPV) directed at older women was a little understood issue in the New River Valley community of rural Virginia. Many community members held inaccurate and ageist notions about older women being targets of IPV – “old people don’t do that.” Dr. Roberto joined forces with the local Women’s Resource Center and developed a three-tiered action plan with short-, medium- and long-term goals for providing direct services and educational materials to older IPV victims and training on late life IPV for volunteers at the center. This local collaborative effort strengthened the response to IPV at both individual and systemic levels.

Violence in rural communities is understudied, perhaps due to the nostalgic view of rural areas as crime free and pastoral, according to Dr. Velma McBride Murry. Her research focused on how community violence affects rural African-American parents’ psychological functioning and their parenting processes. Drawing on data from the Family and Community Health Study (involving 897 families), she found supportive community connections create a protective function for these families by enhancing parents’ abilities to parent well.

Dr. Alexandra Pierce, a member of APA’s Task Force on Trafficking of Women and Girls, echoed the consistent theme of gaps in the research. “Nothing has been published on sexual trafficking of American Indian girls.,” Her Oshkiniigikwe program had to start from scratch. This community-based program in Minnesota works with homeless American Indian females ages 12-21, many with histories of abuse, trauma or exposure to commercial sexual exploitation. The program draws on American Indian cultural teachings such as “survive and resist” and offers intensive case management along with programs on healthy sexuality and relationships and mind-body medicine. In encouraging news, at six month follow-up, 90 percent of the girls stayed in or graduated from high school, and 80 percent reported avoiding sexual exploitation.

Dr. Muninder Ahluwahlia focused on the resilience that the Sikh community has had to develop post-9/11. Sikhs have become targets of record high discrimination, racial profiling and hate crimes from Americans directing their vitriol at anyone they perceive as Muslim — wrongly in this case. In response, the Sikh community draws resilience from religious and cultural resources such as gurdwaras (i.e., places of worship and community gatherings), youth camps, and online communities that strengthen geographically scattered groups.

Dr. Ann Masten, as discussant, closed the session by applauding how each case presented reflected resilience at work, or, as she phrased it the ability of dynamic systems to adapt successfully to disturbances that threaten their function, viability and development.”

Creative Maladjustment and Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 Speech to the APA

This morning, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a truly unique conference session. The topic was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech to the APA, at the 1967 convention. In addition to a riveting session, this topic was an extraordinary lens to view psychology’s struggle and promise of unification.

496664943It began with Dr. Nathaniel Granger, a psychologist and Martin Luther King scholar (here he is re-enacting the I Have a Dream speech), giving a re-enactment of a shortened version of the speech. I began to try to tweet it, but quickly rested my fingers to listen and appreciate as Dr. Granger was able to perfectly capture the cadence of Dr. King. It was so uncanny I half expected to hear crackles of an old recording. You can read the speech yourself here at the King Center or here on the APA website.

Here are two paragraphs, right at the beginning of the speech that drive home to me both the genius and the tragic prescience of Dr. King, in elucidating issues that social scientists still struggle with:

For social scientists, the opportunity to serve in a life-giving purpose is a humanist challenge of rare distinction. Negroes too are eager for a rendezvous with truth and discovery. We are aware that social scientists, unlike some of their colleagues in the physical sciences, have been spared the grim feelings of guilt that attended the invention of nuclear weapons of destruction. Social scientists, in the main, are fortunate to be able to extirpate evil, not to invent it.

 

If the Negro needs social sciences for direction and for self-understanding, the white society is in even more urgent need. White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject. The present crisis arises because although it is historically imperative that our society take the next step to equality, we find ourselves psychologically and socially imprisoned. All too many white Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions — the Negro himself.

This is still painfully true — especially with respect to the thinking of white America. Dr. King goes on to assert that black Americans want social scientists to “tell it like it is” — to expose the psychological and social reality of a people long oppressed. But yet, he argues convincingly,

It was the Negro who educated the nation by dramatizing the evils through nonviolent protest. The social scientist played little or no role in disclosing truth.

This surely has changed, but has it changed enough? Dr. King’s speech, and Dr. Granger’s re-enactment, as well as the compelling presentations by Dr. Joseph White and Dr. Jennifer Selig immediately following, left me with a new framing for the science of psychology. To address social justice, we first must carefully document injustice. Social science need not lead the way in changing an unequal world, but at the very least, we can tell it like it is, documenting that we still have a long way to go to fulfill Dr. King’s admonition nearly 50 years ago.

King left psychologists at the end of that speech, urging us to apply what he called a great psychological word — “maladjustment” — into a hopeful, productive use. He (rightly) notes that some things we should never “adjust” to, like segregation, bigotry, systemic discrimination. I carry that with me even today. Since injustice persists, we should not become “adjusted” to injustice, but should instead use our discomfort to address injustice, or at least document it in our role as social scientists.

Some Convention Tips and My (Best Laid) Plans

I thought I would share a few convention-attending strategies that I have developed over the years, as well as my own plans for the sessions that seem interesting. Please share your own in the comments below.

First, I plan, but not too much. If I use a convention book, I will highlight or circle talks and posters that I want to go to, but leave myself some choice to see what I feel like in the moment. I also try to be aware that even if I am interested in *all the things,* my poor limited brain will be unable to concentrate for eight straight hours. So programming in breaks helps, or sometimes just skipping a session is necessary for me to maintain adequate attention to make the other sessions worthwhile. I also think a vital part of conferences is making time to talk to people outside the sessions. This is one area in which I have enjoyed using Twitter at conferences, to connect with people in a back-channel way, see what people are interested in and see people’s reactions to the talks and posters they are attending.

As far as a strategy on which kinds of events to attend, I try to get a good mix of many different types of talks and experiences. I attend some scholarship of teaching and learning talks, some research summaries, some practical job help talks (tenure, work-life balance, etc). Finally, I think it is important to attend some talks, especially at a conference such as APA, that just look interesting, but don’t fit into any of my research interests, or typical teaching examples, or any other neat categories. Allowing for moments of spontaneity and serendipity are part of what makes conferences worth it for me.

So, for this convention, I’ve mapped out some of the sessions I am interested in (these are  all on Friday). I thought I would give just a brief sentence or two to indicate why I am interested. I am already wishing I could be two places at once, as you can see, I’ll have some tough choices to make.

Cedar playing catch with Cedar

Here I am very busy in graduate school (playing with photostitching software)

Friday 9 a.m.

A comprehensive examination of resilience (High Risk/Extreme Environments)

Two years ago, I taught a first-year seminar at Randolph-Macon entitled “Kids these Days.” It was a yearlong interdisciplinary course taught with a partner in the English department. She was an expert in children’s literature, and I taught my portion of the course as a history of psychology, viewing historical approaches in psychology through the lens of how they treated and explained children. We read about resilience, and students (and I) found it quite interesting. I am curious about continuing research in this topic. You can read more about the course on my blog. (Convention Center, Room 103B)

Scholarship of teaching and learning across the faculty lifespan

I am always interested in integrating the scholarship of teaching and learning into my classroom, both for my own research in the classroom, but also to apply it to my pedagogical choices. This approach (how does this change as I become more senior) looks interesting. (Convention Center, Room 146B)

Friday 10 a.m.

How psychologists think about environmental issues

I think it is fascinating to see how psychology is applied to hot contemporary issues that many think do not have an immediate application. Environmentalism and climate change are a great example of how psychological science has a broad reach. I am eager to learn more about this. (Convention Center, Room 302)

Neuroimaging in the courtroom: Promises and perils in the coming decade

Many of my students are interested in psychology and legal issues, and I think this is a fascinating topic. I am in general a skeptic of applications of neuroimaging, as I wrote here, but I am open to hearing more. I’ll also add that I have heard Scott Lilienfeld speak a few times and have always learned something new, even when he is talking about something about which I am quite familiar.  (Convention Center, Room 101)

Martin Luther King Jr. and APA — The legacy of his 1967 speech

This looks like a fascinating session. I did not know that Martin Luther King Jr. had given a speech to the American Psychological Association, and I see that one of the presenters (Dr. Nathaniel Granger Jr, a Martin Luther King Jr. scholar and performer), will be doing a re-enactment and performance of the speech. I hope they have a big room, because I think this will be great. (Convention Center, Room 150A)

Friday 11 a.m.

SAW Woman of the Year – Libby Nutt WIlliams, Ph.D. – The joy of juggling: Ingredients for work-life balance

My wife and I had twin boys when I was a fourth-year doctoral student. When I received my PhD (in my seventh year), my daughter was only 3 months old. Now my wife is entering a doctoral program herself at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. So, yes, work-life balance is a perennial issue. I have made many decisions in favor of spending time with my family, but I know that I am often blinded by the many dimensions of my privilege to the struggles that many face in achieving work-life balance. When I attend these sessions, it is as much for finding tools and strategies for improving my own work-life balance as to remind myself the barriers that others face, and thinking about ways that I might be able to facilitate better balance for others if I find myself in a position to do so.

Deconstructing promotion and tenure – a re-examination of the faculty review process

I just received tenure at the beginning of this summer. While I am happy to have it behind me, I also have thoughts on the process, both at my institution and in general. I am curious about what this panel will discuss, given that this is a topic that is so often political, vague and quite opaque.

Beyond social media – technology tools every student should use

As the new director of our first-year program at Randolph-Macon, I am eager to expand my knowledge of the critical skills and competencies that college students should acquire. I am often amazed that while we may think that our entering students are “digital natives,”  they are often more unfamiliar than we are with even basic elements of technology. This session (should I be able to attend it) should fill me in on some technologies and websites outside of social media that can be helpful for students.

Friday 1 p.m.

Address by MIchael McCrea: Scientific update on sport related concussions: What does the evidence tell us

I am very interested in this, both because I often teach student athletes, and also because my own children are athletes. My boys play soccer, and we watched some horrific looking head injuries earlier this summer during the World Cup, only to see the player quickly get up and go on playing. I am also on the board of my local youth soccer organization, and I hope to be able to pass on scientific insight to my fellow board members and our volunteer coaches.

During the 2-4 p.m. block, I have a meeting scheduled with a colleague to talk about a new project. And perhaps a brief nap or maybe just staring off into space.

Friday 4 p.m.

Capstone experiences in psychology

I currently teach the capstone experience in our psychology department, which is entitled “Systems and Theories of Contemporary Psychology” and is in fact a history and philosophy of science class. I love the history of psychology (I was even a history of science major in college) but students often find this course a bit jarring in that it is different from some of their previous psychology courses. However, I love teaching with Stanovich’s “How to Think Straight About Psychology,” and guiding seniors in some reflection about what makes a psychology major so great. I am hoping to get some more tools and strategies here, and learn what other people do in their capstone courses.

Rethinking massive online classes: The educational, social and economic upsides

I am a MOOC skeptic. What I take that to mean is that I see MOOCs as an excellent supplement to (and even in some cases, replacement for) a traditional college textbook. However, I am highly dubious that a MOOC could come anywhere close to replacing a teacher. I am also wary of pretending we are scaling up to reduce educational costs or solving large educational problems in front of us, when we are merely providing new educational enrichment to the already educationally enriched, what the inestimable Tressie McMillan Cottom refers to as wandering autodidacts. There is a lot of great writing about this, from the excellent Jonathan Rees, but I am curious to see what two excellent teachers of psychology, James Pennebaker and Sam Gosling have to say about their experience.

Friday 5 p.m.

Psychology and Astronauts

Are you kidding me? How could I not turn up for the Right Stuff? I love the example of NASA as a place most people might not expect to have psychologists, whereas in fact there are a wealth of psychological problems, and interesting psychological research. People also often forget that the first A in NASA is Aeronautic — meaning civil aeronautics and commercial aviation. NASA researchers have helped with the design of many air traffic control towers and even in the processes of air traffic control itself. It is a great way of expanding students’ definitions of psychology, as well as a way to see how psychology is out of this world. This panel will talk about behavioral health and performance in high-risk/extreme environments for astronauts. I am really looking forward to hearing what they have to say, and sharing it with students and anyone who will listen to me blabber on about psychology.

What are some sessions you are looking forward to? How do you handle wanting to be two places at once? I’d love to hear your tips and interests in the comments.

Resilience Among Black Gay and Bisexual Men

photoAPA convention is a great way to obtain continuing education. As an early career psychologist, I find one of the most beneficial things about attending convention is being able to improve my knowledge in areas in which I’ve had limited training during my graduate career. Earlier today, I attended a session sponsored by APA Div. 44 on Resilience in the Face of Minority Stress Among Lesbians, Gay Men and Bisexuals (LGB). The presenters highlighted the importance of resilience in coping with the stigmatizing experiences of LGB individuals.

Highlights from the session:

Patrick Wilson, PhD, of Columbia University, emphasized how young gay black men have significant poor outcomes (e.g., mental health, physical health, substance use, risky sexual behaviors). Dr. Wilson also noted that resilience is a “multideminsonal construct and is context dependent.”

Ilan H. Meyer, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, noted that resilience involves both individual and community-level variables. These variables include things such as community resources, having a sense of belonging, staying connected and living with authenticity.

Nadav Antebi, MA, also from Columbia, identified four important themes related to resilience among young black gay youth based on qualitative research. These themes included:

  • moving forward (e.g., not worrying about the past and focusing on the future)
  • indifference about others’ opinions (e.g., having self-confidence in one’s own actions and beliefs despite others’ stigmatizing views)
  • developing a thick skin
  • stress-related growth, or psychological growth that results from confronting minority stress.

Given the impact of intersecting identities and help-seeking behaviors of men, it is important as a clinical psychologist to be aware of these factors that affect resilience in black gay youth. This session provided a starting point for increasing my awareness of working with this population.

Please contact the researchers for more information about their research.