Special Issue on Violence Against Individuals and Communities — Reflecting on the Trayvon Martin case. The Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology (2013)

This article attempts to address three issues or opportunities raised in the context of violence against individuals and communities: the complex entanglement of personal and professional identities, the role of power and privilege in psychology and a call to action for psychologists to work in concert with communities to advocate for change.

Special Issue Editor: Rebecca L. Toporek, PhD
San Francisco State University

(Note: This article is based on the original article published in the Special Issue on Violence Against Individuals and Communities — Reflecting on the Trayvon Martin Case. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology (2013), 5(1), 1-10.)

The 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin drew attention in the U.S. and globally. For psychologists and psychological science, this type of event spurs complex reactions that are connected to our personal and professional identities. Psychologists provide trauma response to individuals and communities, consultation with communities and media, public education and research that inform public policy. At the same time, psychological practice and science reflects a microcosm of the larger society wherein research and practice with targeted communities is underfunded, undervalued and filtered through existing power structures. So while these events spur professional action, we, as psychologists, face the challenge of deciphering how these events affect us personally, our own identities, our own families and our own community. This article attempts to address three issues or opportunities raised in the context of violence against individuals and communities: the complex entanglement of personal and professional identities, the role of power and privilege in psychology, and a call to action for psychologists to work in concert with communities to advocate for change. As co-editor of the Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology (JSACP), a peer-reviewed electronic journal, I suggest that the journal is positioned well to engage authors and readers in bringing research and scholarship with ethnic minority communities to the forefront with the richness that is inherent in that work.

Personal and Professional

The ability to respond professionally to hate crimes is invaluable. And yet, psychologists are human and also affected by these same events. Given that many psychologists involved in research and practice with targeted communities also belong to targeted groups (e.g., ethnic minorities), the result of these incidents go beyond professional interest. In the weeks following the killing of Trayvon Martin, there was considerable discussion on the APA Div. 45 list serve from members responding to the tragedy and the subsequent racial discourse as practitioners. Educators and scientists. The action and discourse on the list serve as well as other professional venues held such passion, pain, clarity and strategy, that it was clear to me that JSACP could highlight these and other actions as models. A central mission of the journal is to “highlight ‘engaged scholarship’ and the very important social change work done by professionals and activists that would not normally find its way into publication” (JSACP, 2008). The resulting call for manuscripts for a special issue focused on the Trayvon Martin case and other violence against individuals and communities encouraged scholarship and research as well as personal reflections of psychologists, counselors, students and community members.

Power, Privilege and the Profession

As we received manuscripts for the special issue of JSACP, many containing great passion and pain, I became very aware of the role of power and privilege in the editorial process and within the profession as a whole. I wondered about the extent to which the profession of psychology, in its efforts to be scientific and scholarly, might exert power in a way that silences important marginalized voices (Toporek, 2013). Editorial board members and reviewers with critical consciousness and the ability to mentor new writers helped the special issue become an opportunity to have diverse voices heard both from professional and personal perspectives. Yet, on a broader level, more examination is needed about the ways in which professional norms and standards may inadvertently, or blatantly, provide room only for scholars and activists who conform.

Moving to Action with Communities of Color

The focus on action, particularly in collaboration with communities of color, is an important contribution psychological science can make to social change. A large number of the responses to the Trayvon Martin killing focused on examples and suggestions for action, many reflecting the power of community. The time and cost of the engagement process as well as the unpredictability of environmental and community factors can create difficulties in showing outcomes traditionally recognized by funders, university tenure and promotions committees, among others. One way JSACP attempts to give voice to some of these issues is to specifically consider the extent to which communities are participants in the research process as well as to actively seek manuscripts that reflect (and reflect on) action taken, whether it represents systems level transformation, community change, public policy or other forms of social action. Consistent with the idea of highlighting the voices of community, JSACP also encourages authors to reflect on the interplay of personal and professional experience that accompany action.

For more information regarding the Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology visit the JSACP Tumblr website. 

References

Terbush, J. (2013, April 18). N.Y. Post under fire for misidentifying Boston bombing 'suspects'. The Week.

Toporek, R. L. (2013). Violence against Individuals and Communities: Reflecting on the Trayvon Martin Case — An Introduction to the Special Issue (PDF, 207KB). Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 5(1), 1-10.