Advocacy and Empowerment Model in Teaching for Social Justice
Apryl Alexander, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
I’m writing two weeks after the horrific and tragic mass shooting at the Club Q—a place where some of my Colorado friends sought respite and freedom. My career has centered violence prevention and intervention, which compounded the heartbreak to see yet another incident of mass violence. As we continue to witness these tragedies across the globe, it is important for us to think about how we can collectively prevent these incidents—personally and professionally.
Social justice challenges us to imagine a world in which equality and equity is a reality for all people. Our ethical guidelines center justice as an aspirational principle for psychologists, as well as psychology students and trainees. When I taught the Psychology, Public Policy, and Advocacy course at the University of Denver, I hoped to broaden students’ awareness of how they could use psychology to foster social change. Although some psychology subdisciplines—community psychology, counseling psychology, Black psychology, liberation psychology, as examples—have centered social justice and advocacy, these concepts are not core competencies in in all psychology programs. The course centers the scientist-practitioner-advocate model (Mallinckrodt et al., 2014; Miles & Fassinger, 2021), as well as a “teach to empower” framework (Baker, 2018). The primary aims of the course were to build awareness of how to engage in advocacy and social justice efforts and reduce the common barriers (i.e., uncertainty, unawareness of how to get involved, lack of confidence) to psychology advocacy engagement (Alexander & Allo, 2021). We discuss grassroots organizing, legislative advocacy, client-centered advocacy, and community participatory action research—providing them with different avenues for engaging in this work. The final assignment of the course is an “advocacy plan,” which is paper detailing each students’ commitment to engage in advocacy for social change in their career. Advocacy doesn’t only happen on the Hill, but within organizations they will eventually work and within their communities. Most, if not all, leave the course pushing their worries and hesitancies about advocacy involvement aside, and feeling empowered about identifying one (or more) ways they can create change.
We also discuss how interpersonal skills and relationship-building are important aspects of in engaging in advocacy. How are you challenging oppression and marginalization? What does it mean for your to be an ally? How are you overcoming structural or institutional barriers to change? In other words, how are you actively challenging racism, xenophobia, misogyny/misogynoir, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism each day? This work goes beyond the theoretical concepts, it should be our life’s work.
We can contribute to addressing current societal ills. It is not out of our reach. We can also do so along with community, as centering their voices during this time of need is essential. SPSSI and its members have a long history of using psychological research to address societal problems, change policy, and ultimately, enact social change. At a time where so many are experiencing pain, it is time for each of us to show up.
Alexander, A. A., & Allo, H. (2021). Building a climate for advocacy training in professional psychology. The Counseling Psychologist, 49(7), 1070-1089. https://doi.org/10.1177/00110000211027973
Baker, C. N. (2018). Teaching to empower. Feminist Formations, 30(3), 4-15. https://doi.org/10.1353/ff.2018.0033
Mallinckrodt, B., Miles, J. R., & Levy, J. J. (2014). The scientist-practitioner-advocate model: Addressing contemporary training needs for social justice advocacy. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 8(4), 303-311. https://doi.org/10.1037/tep0000045
Miles, J. R., & Fassinger, R. E. (2021). Creating a public psychology through a scientist-practitioner-advocate training model. American Psychologist, 76(8), 1232-1247. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000855