Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy Community Psychology?

           Occupy Wall Street has gained everyone’s attention. But how about Occupy Community Psychology?
Readers, is this a fair question? I wonder, largely because I’m not (yet) seeing the connection between this major local then national and now global event and anything we ourselves are doing. Consider: one lonely note on our list-serv to date; nothing on our Facebook page. However, a blog post earlier this month. (“What happened in the 60’s”) opened the door to this discussion; so let’s walk on through it.
Community psychology still stirs my heart. But we have never been strong – we have hardly been visible – on issues of equity, on issues of class, on issues of institutional power, on issues of corporate (as vs. child, or domestic, or substance) abuse. All the more striking, since we are not the 1%, as far as I know.
           Certainly, the issues we do deal with are challenging; and surely, we have made genuine contributions both to knowledge and to human welfare. Nor did anyone ever tell us when we signed up that we should be leading the charge, or camping out on concrete.
Still, here’s the stated vision of our field, from the SCRA web site:
“Promoting social justice for all people by fostering . . . empowerment where there is oppression.”
And a stated SCRA goal:
“To influence the formation and institutionalization of economic and social policy consistent with community psychology principles and with the social justice values that are at the core of our discipline.”
Is SCRA – are we – living up to those ideals? Given that my campus this week was papered with “Occupy UMass/Lowell” flyers, it seems reasonable to ask how we could step up our own contribution.
As community practitioners, for example, we should know what it takes to generate citizen participation. And we should know something about principles of effective community organization, including effective social protest. Granted, we have much to learn from our more social-media-savvy colleagues and students. But the Occupy movement, and whatever succeeds it, should give us plenty of opportunity to advise, support, study, discuss, instruct, consult, and provide moral leadership – to be actors, and practitioners, not only spectators.
Just raising the issues here. What do you think, blog readers?

Bill Berkowitz, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts Lowell

Footnote: Just after the above was written, Brad Olson, a community psychologist and member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) posted a note on the SCRA list-serv, and also on the community psychology Facebook page, indicating PsySR's support of the Occupy movement. See the October 22-23 list-serv, and also
Worth a look.  ~~BB 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Psychology of Climate Change: The Question of Climate Change

On October 21st, 2011, an independent climate study called the Berkeley Earth Project reported new reliable evidence of climate change. In a press statement, Scientific Director Richard Muller is quoted as saying,

“Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the U.S. and the U.K. This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change skeptics did not seriously affect their conclusions.”

New evidence of climate change is powerful, especially to those who remain skeptical of the methods or outcomes of previous research on the topic. However there has existed a general consensus in the scientific community since the late 1980s that climate change is occurring. And scientific concern about climate change goes back even farther. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences published a booklet in 1958 that issued a warning about potential climate changes due to an increase in atmospheric CO2:

“Our industrial civilization has been pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a great rate. By the year 2000 we will have added 70 percent more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. If it remained, it would have a marked warming effect on the earth’s climate, but most of it would probably be absorbed by the oceans. Conceivably, however, it could cause significant melting of the great icecaps and raise sea levels in time.”

In the past year, record floods have wrought devastation in Pakistan, Australia, Columbia, Brazil, the Balkans, and the United States. The strongest winds ever recorded on land occurred when Typhoon Megi hit Southeast Asia. South Pacific countries including Tuvalu, Tokelau are experiencing record drought; Tuvalu declared a state of emergency because the country was only days away from running out of water. Record monsoons in Thailand are flooding the country, including the capitol city Bangkok. Global heat waves have led to record-breaking temperatures, including 128˚F in Pakistan (and other countries in the 120’s), and caused transit shutdowns in the United States. In 2011, we have seen ten weather-related disasters costing billions of dollars.

Environmental lawyer Maxine Burkett, who is working with the international community to define the legal rights of countries who may lose their land to climate change says,

“A common question that I often hear is, ‘Did climate change cause these extraordinary events to happen? Like, the Pakistan floods, are they the result of climate change?’ But it’s crucial to ask the question in a different way. As renowned climate scientist Jim Hansen has said, ‘We should be asking ourselves if all these extreme events would be happening without vast amounts of carbon pollution in the atmosphere. The answer,’ he says, ‘Is almost certainly not.’”

These questions that continue to be asked (Is climate change real and caused by humans? Did climate change cause this disaster? Could this disaster have happened without carbon pollution?) are all important questions and must be continually addressed. In the psychology of climate change, we add other questions to the mix:

How do human psychology and behaviors contribute to climate change?

What psychological barriers prevent climate change action?

What psychological motivators contribute to climate change action?

What are the psychological impacts of disaster? And of long-term ambient threat of future disaster?

How does culture influence human psychology and behaviors surrounding climate change?

What are the ways in which people understand climate change? And how do these ways of knowing influence their psychology and behavior?

In the psychology of climate change, we must look beyond the changes to the land, weather, and sea. We must consider the human impacts, contributions, actions, and understandings of climate change. We must consider the ways in which people work together, or fail to do so, to mitigate, adapt to, or respond to climate changes. We must understand that when the planet changes, so too must we change. We must understand our strengths, limitations, and capacities to handle these changes. And finally, whether or not we believe climate change is caused by humans, we must recognize and address that it is a very human problem for the humans living on this planet.

Kati Corlew, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Perinatal Periods of Risk Analyses: Using Data to Mobilize the Community and to Guide Prevention and Intervention Strategies

Susan M. Wolfe, Ph.D.
CEO, Susan Wolfe and Associates, LLC

         Nobody wants to read, hear, or think about babies dying. Yet, in the United States, the estimated infant mortality rate for 2011 is 6.06 per 1,000 births. In comparison, the infant mortality rate in Japan is 2.78, in the Czech Republic it is 3.73, and in the United Kingdom it is 4.62 per 1,000 babies born.1 These rates are not the same for everyone in the United States and there are large disparities in racial and ethnic groups, with rates for Black infants more than twice those of White infants.
          Perinatal Periods of Risk (PPOR) is an analytic framework that provides urban communities with valuable tools to investigate and develop prevention and intervention strategies to combat feto-infant mortality and other adverse birth outcomes.2 This framework uses a 2-phase approach. Phase 1 estimates the excess mortality for specific groups compared to a reference group with optimal outcomes. Phase 2 consists of a more in-depth community investigation of risk and preventive factors that contribute to the excess mortality rates. I recently had the opportunity to participate in Phase 1 of this process in one community and Phase 2 in another, and I am continuing participation in efforts to engage and mobilize the communities to address the identified disparities.
During Phase I analyses are performed to determine at which stage the rates are highest using the framework presented below. Each cell in this model represents a different age of infant and birth weight, and each is associated with different implications for prevention and/or intervention. For example, the "Maternal Care" cell consists of infants that weighed at least 1500 grams that died prior to birth. Intervention to reduce this rate would focus on prenatal care.

(24 + weeks)
(0-27 days)
Post Neonatal
(28 + days)
500-1499 grams


   Maternal Health/Prematurity
1500 + grams

Maternal Care

Newborn Care

Infant Health

         We recently presented the rates for each of these periods and birth weights at a community forum with approximately 300 social service, education, and health care professionals in the audience.3 The audience size was approximately the same number as the total number of potentially preventable infant deaths during a five year period. When the speaker asked everyone to stand and look around, and then pointed out that the number of infants that died unnecessarily was the same as the number of people standing in the room, the data were humanized. Each loss of life is not just a single infant, but a loss of potential talent and of potential significant contributions to society. The follow-up to this presentation is a scheduled meeting to engage community based organizations to begin developing community wide strategies to address these disparities.
         I attended another forum in a different community a few days later where results of Phase 2 analyses were presented, pointing out the specific maternal and social factors that predicted very low birth weight (which is associated with infant mortality). They included race (Black), low maternal education, inadequate prenatal care, previous preterm birth, previous infant death, and maternal chronic health conditions. When analyses were performed specifically for Black women, community economic disadvantage was also a predictor, although marginally.4 In this community, these data are being used to develop a Local Health Systems Action Plan specifically targeting infant mortality, low birth weight and very low birth weight. A community wide consortium is in place to facilitate implementation of this plan.
         These are examples of how data can be presented to communities to mobilize them and to guide their actions. Phase 1 data were useful in demonstrating that there is a problem, and specifically where that problem resides. Phase 2 provided the detailed information needed to show the community where to start to target prevention and interventions. The level of the data speaks not only to individual interventions, but suggests avenues for more systemic changes, such as improving access to prenatal care and developing strategies to reduce community economic disadvantage.

ADDENDUM: An hour after I wrote and submitted this blog I learned that the State of Texas issued a request for applications for communities to utilize PPOR data to develop or enhance local coalitions to implement evidence-based interventions to reduce the incidence of preterm birth and infant mortality.

1 Central Intelligence Agency (2011). The World Factbook. Accessed at: on October 15, 2011.
2 Sappenfield, W.M., Peck, M.G., Gilbert, C.S., Haynatzka, V.R., & Bryant, T. (2010). Perinatal Periods of Risk: Analytic Preparation and Phase 1 Analytic Methods for Investigating Feto-Infant Mortality. Maternal Child Health Journal, Published online 20 June 2010.
3 Bellinger, K., & Wolfe, S.M. (2011, September). The State of Infant Mortality. Presented at the Voices for Children of San Antonio 13th annual Congress on Children. San Antonio, TX
4 Caughy, M.O. (2011, September). Perinatal periods of risk in Dallas County: Phase II results and next steps. Presentation to the Dallas Healthy Start Infant Summit, Dallas, TX.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Second Round of Grant Winners Announced!

The SCRA Community Mini-Grant, sponsored for this first time this year, is a time-sensitive grant designed to be responsive to community needs.  

Our second two awardees were announced this year.  You can read about their projects below - we are very excited to sponsor them, and look forward to hearing about their work as it progresses.  

SCRA plans to offer ten grants, with an average award of $1,200.  All current SCRA members and their community collaborators are welcome to apply. For more information on this grant, please see or email SCRACommunityGrants [at]

 Grant Number 3:  SCRA Member - Annie Wright
Student-led Historical Preservation in Columbia, SC
       The Historic Columbia Foundation is partnering with the Richland County School District One to provide students a unique hands-on learning experience.  Students are driving a preservation project at the Mann-Simons historic house museum.  In the Spring of 2011, students in a Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) course at the Heyward Career and Technology Education center engaged in an in-depth and on-site study of the site.  Based on evidence they helped gather, these students generated CAD drawings of structures that formerly stood on the site.  They have now passed those drawings on to their colleagues in a Residential Construction course who have begun their own investigation of the site.  With funding from the SCRA Mini Grants award to purchase building supplies, and in collaboration with HCF historians and archaeologists,  these students will build "ghost structures" or frames of buildings that previously stood on the property.  The project aims to expose students to a counter-narrative about an empowered African American family from South Carolina and to actively engage them in the physical preservation of the site.  Additionally, the project aims to develop a model for school-community partnerships where historical preservation projects can catalyze community engagement and social change around persistent racial divides.

Grant Number 4:  SCRA Member - Dawn Henderson
A Mixed Methods Project of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA’s Boomerang Program: From theory to evaluation
         The aim of this project is to conduct a collaborative evaluation to assess the relationship between youth participation in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA’s Alternative to Suspension Boomerang Program, resilience and connectedness, and ways in which these services affect relationships at the parent and teacher level (family and school level).  Over the past year, the researcher has met with Boomerang staff to identify their evaluation and program needs, target population, description of program, and identify relevant stakeholders and outcomes. Boomerang staff are actively engaged throughout each stage of the project, which includes the formation of a program theory, evaluation plan, and assisting in data collection. Findings from the project has implications not just for Boomerang but also to glean how their particular services translate into the relationships that students have beyond the context of the program and into the school and family setting. Thus, possibly shedding light on the behavior of youth when leaving the Boomerang Program and ways in which these settings factor in on sustaining intervention efforts. Incentives for program participants, teachers and parents and data analysis are funded through the generous support from the SCRA Community Mini-Grant.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What happened in the 60's: Community psychology, social policy, and the 99%

Quick - what do South Korea, Finland, Canada, and Japan all have in common?

(a)    They all outrank the U.S. in reading, math, and science
(b)    Their citizens have higher life expectancies than those in the U.S.
(c)    Compared to the U.S., they have far greater levels of income equality
(d)    All of the above

 In case you haven’t guessed it, the answer is included in the body of this blog post. 

Until very recently, it seemed that income inequality was the pink elephant in the proverbial room of American discourse. Sure, the lifestyles of the super-rich routinely littered our media landscape. But the expectation was that those watching would envy them, perhaps even resent them a little bit, but most of all want to be them. Viewers were expected to want their huge houses, multiple cars, and overpriced wardrobes, not to mention their lavish super sweet 16s and platinum weddings. Imagine if one of these shows or celebrity profiles was followed by a frank conversation about the state of income inequality in the U.S. It would never happen.

This is why I have been so excited to see the growth of Occupy Wall St, and its rapid spread throughout the country and even beyond its borders. Despite critiques about the movement not having a clear message, there’s been one phrase that’s captured the public imagination – “We are the 99%.” It’s not only the phrase, but the many honest stories  by ordinary Americans written on pieces of paper or cardboard, that have resonated with people. The stories are compelling, and the slogan is clear – ordinary Americans are tired of seeing politics and media controlled by the richest 1%. The movement has grown to the degree that it cannot be ignored, even by the mainstream media, or by politicians who would rather see it just go away.

Income inequality (and wealth inequality, which is different but correlated) is not just about who gets jobs and material goods. Study after study has shown that low socioeconomic status negatively affects such essentials as academic performance and health and that the negative effects of individual low SES can be compounded by additional community level effects of living in a low SES neighborhood. In a conversation about multilevel modeling, one education researcher mentioned that his attempts to study the negative impact of low SES on academic performance in more egalitarian European countries didn’t work because the disparate income levels he wanted to use as predictors simply couldn't be found.

While my pop quiz at the beginning of this post is based on cursory glances at data on academic performancelife expectancy, and income inequality, (btw, the answer is "d") there are reasons to believe that there can be systematic negative effects of income inequality on a national level. This means that, as opposed to the trickle-down theory that states that economic gain for those on the highest rungs of the economic ladder leads to better lives for those on the lower rungs, there may be more of a drag-down effect happening in which greater income inequality leads to a less educated, unhealthier, and altogether weaker nation.

One quote about the Occupy Wall St movement that has made its way through social media may bring a smile to some of the founders of community psychology - which, like many great things, sprung forth in the 1960’s. Peter King, a conservative politician in New York, warned that the conversations resulting from the Occupy Wall Street movement can, like the protests of the 1960’s, end up affecting social policy. And to that I say, yes we can.

Gina Cardazone, M.A.
University of Hawai`i, Mānoa