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Sandy's Ongoing Commitment to People of Color and Indigenous Peoples Within and Beyond Psycholog

Question 1. In what ways have you promoted the wellbeing of People of Color and Indigenous peoples in psychology and/or within society more broadly?

In my early years, I grew up in post-war transitional housing and a low income, urban housing project, both interracial environments. I interacted with people of many colors daily, where lines were often drawn by race, SES and religion. I directly witnessed social injustices towards People of Color, and these experiences never left me—nor the need to be a good ally, given my white privilege. My own identity related to sexual orientation, gender identity, SES and religion has provided me with many opportunities to understand what it means to be placed on the margins by others’ attitudes and behaviors. I try to use those experiences to improve my awareness, empathy, and understanding of what life is like for People of Color and Indigenous peoples.

I participated in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. As a young university administrator in the 1970’s, I actively supported and developed programs and selection processes for student life that promoted diversity and inclusion. In my role at the Center for Creative Leadership, I had my first formal introduction to Indigenous peoples through leadership development work—from this and other experiences with leaders of Color and leaders from around the world, I learned a great deal about the cultural and contextual significance of leadership. I have continued to incorporate this learning into my work. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, as a graduate faculty member, I co-taught courses that integrated material on race, ethnicity and other diversity into courses that traditionally left out these important factors.

As an organizational consultant over the past twenty-five years, I have done extensive work in the US and international contexts throughout the world on leadership development, diversity and inclusion, organizational development, strategy and executive education. This has included work with a wide variety of profit and not-for-profit organizations, involving many people of and issues for People of Color and Indigenous peoples. I have emphasized issues of diversity and inclusion in every organization where I participated, including as a board member, chair or member.

What this means for me is that race and ethnicity dynamics are always in the room, no matter the demographics of those in the room, and these dynamics require my attention. I recognize I must continually work hard to understand what being an ally really means. In trying to figure out what this means, I rely on my colleagues of Color and Indigenous peoples to help me understand when my actions are helpful or harmful. I strive to be a learner, a learning leader and to embrace working on my own racism that is a continuing part of my life, wherever I go. I aspire to listen to both what is said and what is not said, to ask questions that lead to greater understanding, to stay open and curious about different perspectives and realities, and to seek and solicit feedback that can be helpful yet discomforting. I strive to pay close attention to those at the margins in group situations, strategizing ways to effectively bring them to the center of the organization, where their visions/issues/concerns can be integrated into all levels of the organization. These are core values that guide my work.

In my work in organized psychology at the state, national and international levels, I have intentionally worked to create an inclusive and diverse community, learn from difficult issues, lead collaboratively to solve problems, and work to integrate marginalized perspectives and viewpoints. Some examples of these values in action are as follows:

  • organized the first public interest initiatives at the Ohio Psychological Association, the beginning of an emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

  • served as a founding faculty member for the Diversity Management Program at Cleveland State University, the first masters level training program focused on diversity and organizational systems in the US.

  • co-chaired with Maria Root the Council Work Group to secure Council passage of the first set of APA Multicultural Guidelines and was a member of the Task Force on the Implementation of the Multicultural Guidelines

  • chaired the work group to resolve Council conflicts related to the World Congress against Racism Report

  • designed and implemented the first Council and Consolidated Meetings diversity training in 2005 on unconscious bias and discrimination that included presentations by Toy Caldwell-Colbert, Derald Wing Sue and Jack Dovidio

  • co-facilitated with Melba Vasquez and Rosie Davis difficult dialogues at APA following conflict at the NMCS

  • co-founded (with many others) the Leadership Institute for Women and Psychology, which has emphasized diversity and inclusion in its selection process and has been continuously working on enhancing the relevance of content for Women of Color and Indigenous peoples and other diversity.

  • co-designed with Cathy McDaniels Wilson, Melba Vasquez, Jessica Henderson Daniel, Jennifer Kelly and Dinelia Rosa the Division 31 Diversity Leadership Development Program Initiative for practice leadership diversity delegates

  • actively participated with the current Council Diversity Work Group, starting from standing up with the original group at Council through the present

  • thirty years of scholarship with initial focus on sexual harassment and discrimination, more recently on leadership and international/cultural/diversity issues

  • recent work on women’s leadership development in Qatar

  • worked hard to be a good friend, colleague, mentor, learner and ally that has included both speaking and not speaking when necessary

Question 2. How will your presidential initiatives address the priorities of People of Color and Indigenous peoples, including those who are psychologists and trainees?

The role of President of APA is about many things, including a few initiatives. For every moment you are President, you contribute to the culture of the APA organization, either positively or negatively in terms of diversity and inclusion. So, I would start by making a commitment to examine the impact of all decisions and actions of APA with a diversity and inclusion lens, including my own behavior as President. This includes how the President represents APA publicly in formal addresses, meetings, ambassadorial work with other organizations, public statements and positions of the organization, strategic priorities and funding, and intended/unintended consequences of all organizational decisions, processes, formal studies and reorganizational activities.

I believe many issues about diversity at APA have been marginalized because they have been siloed in the Public Interest Directorate. We need to make sure that diversity and inclusion issues are central to all aspects of APA, while maintaining and supporting focused attention in Public Interest. I would hope to work with the new Chief Diversity Officer to help governance address diversity and inclusion in parallel with the staff organization to make our collective culture truly welcoming for all, both nationally and internationally and to make diversity and inclusion a priority for every directorate and member of APA. We also need to make APA a leader on diversity issues in the larger society. Psychological science needs to tackle diversity issues more comprehensively, and findings from existing empirical work on diversity need to be communicated more broadly to the public.

In terms of specific Presidential initiatives:

  1. Leadership Development and Systems Change—an initiative to create access to leadership development for all psychologists and to create specific resources to help create effective change processes. I want this work to specifically include and focus on ECPs and Psychologists of Color and Indigenous people. I want to provide resources and support for psychologists to both see themselves as learning leaders (change resource people) and actually drive organizational change processes for the benefit of the public and psychology.

  2. Workforce of the future—an initiative to look at the future and the evolving nature of psychological and vocational needs with focus on the public. My concern is driven by the impact of digitization and our national lack of preparation for the ways digitization will affect the evolution of work. Current trends may actually accelerate a disparate impact on currently marginalized people—especially communities of People of Color and Indigenous peoples. We need to develop effective strategies to counteract these trends.

  3. Psychology workforce of the future—an initiative to look at what psychologists can do and will do in the future. We are not prepared as a profession and science for the rapidity of the changes on the horizon in our organizations, culture, and communities. There will be much work for psychologists to do if we are ready for change. We need psychologists of Color and Indigenous peoples in both numbers and training to help lead the way in an increasingly diverse country.

  4. Enhanced integration and leverage of advocacy and social justice initiatives—an initiative to create some APA member/staff/outside expert teams for specific ongoing issues rather than just reacting to current events. For example, immigration is clearly an ongoing issue, with continuously evolving challenges. There is great expertise within organized psychology, both inside and outside of APA. We could build on the work of Melba Vasquez’ Presidential Task Force on Immigration, updating it to address current devastating circumstances of US immigration policy. A similar approach could be used to address violence against People of Color and Indigenous peoples as a painfully ongoing set of issues. We need to identify these resources and bring them together across various aspects of our discipline—science, education, applied/practice, advocacy—to contribute more regularly, consistently and at an enhanced level of impact.

  5. Psychology in the Middle East—this is not a formal initiative, but I have a particular interest to explore further relationships with psychologists in the Middle East. I have worked in the Middle East for over ten years and would like to support, collaborate and promote culturally responsive psychological services, science, and training in appropriate and effective ways.

  6. Finally, I am aware of the long and painful history that both APA and psychology have had with People of Color and Indigenous Peoples, virtually as long as both APA and psychology have existed. We have shameful, horrific examples of racism in our history, including more recent efforts to right our ship that have continued to add to our challenges (e.g., seating EMPA representation and relationships with APA). I have learned from these experiences that we must create truly collaborative relationships, built by addressing issues of mutual commitment and concern rather than going through ritualized motions of relatedness, based on a superficial agenda. Perhaps we have tried to build before we have addressed the harm and attended to the need for apology and healing. There is much healing and building to do, and this will take time, effort and a willingness to learn and be open to difficult dialogue and different approaches. I am committed and ready to lead this work if elected APA President. Your support and endorsement are critical and would be deeply personally meaningful to me.

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