Thoughts of Our Elders on Ethnic Minority Recruitment, Retention, and Training

Connie Dekis talks to the "elders" of ethnic recruitment, retention, and training in psychology — Dr. Joseph White, Dr. Richard Suinn, and Dr. Patricia Arredondo — as they share interesting perspectives on multicultural and diversity challenges confronting the field of psychology and provide suggestions for tackling relevant issues.

Connie Dekis
OEMA Intern - The George Washington University
 

In this article, you will find interviews with three "elders" of ethnic minority recruitment, retention, and training in psychology; Dr. Joseph White, Dr. Richard Suinn, and Dr. Patricia Arredondo. The interviewees share their unique perspectives and methodology along with their views of the major challenges confronting psychology if it is to meet the challenge of a multicultural psychology in the 21st century. The interview questions were developed based on Dr. Richard Suinn and Dr. Evelinn Borrayo's compelling manuscript, "The Ethnicity Gap- the Past, Present, and Future."

Joseph L. White, PhDJoseph L. White is often referred to as the 'godfather' in the field of Black psychology. He helped found the Association of Black Psychologists during the 1968 convention of the American Psychological Association. In 1994, Dr. White was awarded a Citation of Achievement in Psychology and Community Service from President Bill Clinton. He is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine where he spent most of his career.

OEMA: Mental health services, education, and the governance structure within the American Psychological Association are some relevant areas to which the recruitment, retention, and training of ethnic minorities is pertinent. Besides the topics stated above, what are some other areas that could be looked at in order to meet the challenge of a multicultural psychology in the 21st century?

Dr. White: We have to strengthen the pipeline to recruit people form underrepresented groups. In undergraduate psychology courses there is very little representation of anything that looks like ethnic students. There is no connection between who they are and what the psychology is all about. If you are going to go to graduate school in psychology you need to start building your GPA. If you don't discover psychology until later in college the path to a PhD program may already be blocked.

Assuming that ethnic students pursue psychology there are still problems afterwards. If a person of color wants to go back into the community and help other minorities, this may not be easy. The models we have in psychology are Euro-American models by in large. We claim we are going to be multicultural but that means one class in graduate school. Once in the field, ethnic minority graduate students in psychology don't get exposed to the kinds of tools that help them do what they want to do and we need to change that.

OEMA: What is the most compelling research you have done in regards to mental health and minorities? Why?

Dr. White: In science you have a context of discovery and a context of confirmation. Back in 1970, I wrote an article in Ebony Magazine written in the context of discovery. I didn't confirm any ideas but I put some on the table. I said there was such a thing as Black Psychology and this is something psychologists needed to look at. The theories we were using in 1970 talked about Blacks being dumb and inferior and that didn't fit the existence I had come out of. So I wrote this article and subsequently not only did Black Psychology develop but Asian American, Native American, and Mexican American etc. Following that article a whole set of ideas emerged and the door extended.

OEMA: The APA Committee on Accreditation permits the diversity requirement to be met with one course. What specific plan of action can you think of to infuse the concept throughout the entire curriculum?

Dr. White: That one course is usually taught by a young female assistant professor, untenured, just the little-bittiest thing in the department. That says nonverbally that the course isn't important. We need to think about models that saturate and infuse the curriculum [with multiculturalism/diversity] throughout the 5 years of graduate school so that it becomes part of psychologists' identity.

The senior faculty determine the curriculum but unfortunately they were trained in the 20th century when diversity wasn't part of their identity. So, we are asking them to do something they were never trained to do and may not believe in. Deeper than racism is competence. If you have a 55 year old department chair who has had his ticket punched all the way doing what he has been doing and I come along and ask him to change that — he isn’t going to like that.

OEMA: What attracted you personally to the field of psychology and what motivated you to continue training?

Dr. White: I took the required freshman psychology class and saw how Pavlov worked that dog. I said, “This is the way to teach people and condition them.” They say the Black male is dumb and oversexed. Pretty soon that becomes a fact if you have heard it since you were 3. If you see a Black man you immediately start acting nervous. In that class I realized this is how they work a game on people — social conditioning. You teach society who is good and who is bad and that way you don't have to say it anymore. 

Two weeks later in class they talked about the subconscious and defense mechanisms and I said to myself, "Yeah…they pour that stuff into children when they are young and it becomes part of their subconscious". They don't have to ask who is superior in American, they already know that. Then, they got defense mechanisms to prevent them from seeing another person's reality. So I could tell them you are misusing Black folks…but they couldn't see it. So, I said, "This is for me…I am going with this.”

I almost left psychology though. After I got my PhD I was 28 years old, married, and I had done 2 years in the military. I had all my tickets punched and I still couldn't rent a house. I said, "This is really crazy! I've done all these things these white people have asked me to do and now I have got to go through a lawsuit". I said, "To hell with establishment". But then somebody told me. "Look, if you don't like what is going on then you can either leave or you could work to change it.” So we decided hey, if there is going to be a Black psychology then we have to develop it. You can't go to your oppressor for affirmation…that is a contradiction in terms. So we decided to do it ourselves. Then the Asians followed, the Chicanos, and even White women got their own theories. Everyone jumped on the band wagon! I mean we aren't at the promise land but we are a lot further than we were 50 years ago when I left graduate school.


 

Richard Suinn, PhD Dr. Richard Suinn is a Professor Emeritus in Counseling Psychology at Colorado State University. He is also a past president of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Suinn is well known for his work in such areas as anxiety management, ethnicity, and sports psychology. He is the author of the Suinn-Lew Asian Self-Identity Acculturation Scale, the most used measure by researchers studying Asian-American acculturation. Dr. Suinn lives in Fort Collins, Colorado where he was also the mayor. 

APA: Mental health services, education, and the governance structure within the American Psychological Association are some relevant areas to which the recruitment, retention, and training of ethnic minorities is pertinent. Besides the topics stated above, what are some other areas that could be looked at in order to meet the challenge of a multicultural psychology in the 21st century?

Dr. Suinn: I believe an overlooked area is identifying the unique strengths which various cultures provide their peoples. For too long, ethnic minority status has been viewed as being a negative factor, and in many ways this is accurate. But the contributing factors are the variables associated with minority status such as the influence of racism, poverty, restricted educational opportunities, environmental demands, etc.

On the other hand some studies have surfaced suggesting that being from an ethnic culture can bring protective and positive influences. Among Asian Americans, there is documentation that Asian parental beliefs in the role of effort - not native intelligence - on school tasks produces better academic performance among Asian children compared to White children. The "Hispanic paradox" has long been recognized, showing that being a foreign born Latina confers a protective effect against low birth rate despite other risk factors. A recent 2009 study reported that African-American churches provide more health programs to their congregations than White churches. And, of course, there was the University of Michigan report suggesting that White students experiencing contact with ethnic minority students, personally gained in various ways.

OEMA: What is the most compelling research you have done in regards to mental health and minorities? Why?

Dr. Suinn: Since my retirement, research activities have been through students I supervise, such as identifying variables which influence MSE (math/science/engineering) career decisions among bilingual Spanish-speaking students. A by-product of this study was the development of a Spanish version of my mathematics anxiety scale. Another quite interesting study had results suggesting that the effects of matching ethnic clients to counselors based on counselor ethnicity may be influenced by the nature of the presenting problem. Specifically matching on ethnicity might be more important for personal problems but less so for academic performance concerns.

The findings of the MSE research can point the way to increasing the numbers of Hispanics considering educational or career paths in the mathematics/science/engineering directions. And, results from the matching study suggest a refinement in service delivery that could entail more efficient matching.

OEMA: What attracted you personally to the field of psychology and what motivated you to continue training?

Dr. Suinn: Probably the attraction was that it blended scientific thinking with people-issues, as well as being somewhat allied to medicine. Coming from an Asian-American background, I knew my parents were pulling for me towards a medical profession and psychology is readily identifiable as an allied health profession. I would actually identify teaching as my real "field".

I have enjoyed the student contact and have taught in the full range of educational settings: from a liberal arts undergraduate college to a medical school to a graduate research university. Collaborating with students has been the energizing force for me over the years. When added to the creativity and discovery process generated in research endeavors, being a faculty member is an unbeatable experience!

OEMA: What are the benefits of standing diversity committees?

Dr. Suinn: As with most standing committees, a diversity committee has the advantage of sending the message that its mission is considered valuable enough to assign resources and attention. The committee members can also focus their fullest energies and creativity to seeking ways to achieve positive outcomes. Finally, they can serve as a "conscience" to remind others of the importance of their goals and to continue the challenging task of advocacy.

OEMA: In 25 years, what progress do you anticipate will be made in multicultural psychology?

Dr. Suinn: The day in which ethnic "minorities" will be in the majority is right around the corner. Currently about 1 in 3 individuals is a person of color. Census projections are that by 2050 ethnic minorities will become the majority totaling 52.3% of the U.S. population. In fact the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the minority population in the U.S. is larger than the total population of all but 11 countries.

With such growth, new leadership, new scientists, new educators, new service providers will be in place. Diverse effective and efficient interventions and methods of treatment will be in development. Health promotion takes on a major role as more knowledge surfaces regarding positive factors protecting emotional and physical health. However the pace of such changes and the level reached may be slower than we would like.


Patricia Arredondo, PhDDr. Patricia Arredondo is the Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Interim Dean for the School of Continuing Education, and Professor of Counseling Psychology in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is recognized for her brilliant work in the development of multicultural counseling competencies, research on Latina/o issues in higher education, and research with immigrant groups. Dr. Arredondo is the author and co-author of five books, hundreds of articles and book chapters, and multiple counselor training videos and DVDs in English and Spanish.

OEMA: What is the most compelling research you have done in regards to mental health and minorities? Why?

Dr. Arredondo: They all have to do with immigrants - their mental well-being is dependent on the sense of self efficacy and the sense of personal empowerment. I studied individuals who were immigrant adolescents transitioning into young adulthood and the extent they felt control in their destiny and their planning. That they could feel competent in what they had achieved in this period of transition from one culture to another was very meaningful to them. It gave them a sense of self acceptance in terms of who they were - in terms of identity and congruence with their own values. You don't feel as distressed psychologically if you consolidate who you are and I saw this over a 5 year period of time.

OEMA: What do you think is the first step that needs to be taken NOW in order for ethnic minorities to receive equal mental health services?

Dr. Arredondo: I think that you can't take a pop shot at this. There are many steps that have been taken but one of the first steps is to look at what has been successful in bringing ethnic minorities to health services. There are data out there to describe successful endeavors and we need to look at what those programs are like. You don't want to reinvent the wheel. Because it is such a holistic issue where you involve a lot of people - you can't just be glib about this.

OEMA: The APA Committee on Accreditation permits the diversity requirement to be met with one course. What specific plan of action can you think of to infuse the concept throughout the entire curriculum?

Dr. Arredondo: I think enforcement of that item has been very lax for years. We have guidelines on multicultural education training, research and practice etc., and I am always amazed when I speak at conferences how few people know these exist. So, what we need to do in the curriculum is put some money behind the diversity effort. APA could host an invitation only workshop where people come to Washington and sit down and infuse the curriculum. Have a bunch of people - department heads - and be intentional about infusing it into the required courses for doctoral programs. You could knock this out within a week – have a structure to do this and go home and have some follow up. And then you would have a model curriculum. I know other professions like school counselors do this. That is when you have a chance to influence the teaching of the curriculum.

OEMA: Money is a great way to create an incentive which changes motivation…but if the funds are not available what are other ways to motivate ethnic minorities in psychology?

Dr. Arredondo: I don't think people come into the field for money reasons. Personally as a Mexican American woman, I saw that there are so few of us in the field. I also saw the disparities back then and was drawn to understanding people. If you are drawn to this, money is not the issue - it's not the reason ethnic minorities come into psychology. They do it for the passion. I think money is a straw dog.

OEMA: Is there a common thread or a common challenge that links mental health services, education, and the APA in regards to increasing the number of ethnic minorities within psychology?

Dr. Arredondo: The common thread is leadership, intentionality, and accountability. The common challenge is to stick with it. There are always competing priorities but we don't make progress if we distract ourselves. For example, the condition of education K-12 in the US is a mess and there hasn't been sufficient deliberateness and follow through at a national leadership level to make a difference. So our kids continue to fail and teachers continue to get battered for not being accountable. I think what we have to do is stick with these priorities. We put a lot on the shoulders of the President but clearly there has to be will at other levels. The APA is a big stakeholder. These other people like APA have to help with the implementation of all these great ideas.

OEMA: In 25 years, what progress do you anticipate will be made in multicultural psychology?

Dr. Arredondo: In 25 years it's going to be the framework for all psychology…right now we kind of marginalize multicultural psychology. It is going to be the way psychology training research and practice is enacted. You do something in the name of multicultural psychology and we have to remember it relates to people in general. That is one of my dreams, that multicultural psychology will be all psychology.

Connie Dekis Connie Dekis is a senior at The George Washington University. There she is a psychology major and communications minor and a member of the psychology honor society, Psi Chi. Connie spent last semester studying abroad at The University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. She has served as a counselor at a camp for kids with cancer and traveled to the Dominican Republic to help out in a building project for local families. Her work in public health education projects includes a campus radio show that she co-created to educate students about healthy sexual behavior, and programming to prevent depression, chemical dependency and academic underachievement in school-aged children.