Eric Chen, Ph.D.

With pride I prepared this column during Pride Month– a time for us to celebrate the diverse spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations. We hope to see you at the APA convention in August 2022 where we will present the 2022 Student Award for Outstanding Contribution to Diversity in Group Psychology or Group Psychotherapy, and the 2022 Award for Outstanding Professional Contribution to Diversity in Group Psychology or Group Psychotherapy.

Consistent with our focus on hearing diverse voices and perspectives, I have invited Elena E. Kim to share her reflection about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) related work in the context of group dynamics or group therapy. Like many of our Division members, Elena is a member of the DEIB Committee and a member of, among others, APA Division 36: Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Her experience certainly underscores the power within each of us in engaging in difficult dialogues and in effecting change at multiple levels in different contexts. 

–Eric C. Chen (Chair) and Aziza Platt (Vice Chair) of the DEIB Committee

Embarking on the Difficult Path Toward Cultural Humility

I always knew that being a committed member of a group that values diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging would not be easy. However, it was not until I became part of the Social Justice Task Force of APA’s Division 36 that I realized it would be far more challenging than I had ever imagined.

The murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 broke my heart. I was distraught and felt so incredibly hopeless in the wake of his death that I started asking myself, “How in the world can our country still be at this place?” and “There has to be something more that I can do.” I spent the next few days taking an honest inventory of my intangible assets and asked myself how I could harness my own power to help dismantle systemic oppression. Through my soul searching, I started asking myself whether I had more power to support implementing change against systemic oppression than I originally realized? So, I sent an email to APA Division 36, where I have been a member as well, to see if others were interested in harnessing their skills, expertise, and power to social justice causes.

In just a matter of weeks, we had more than a dozen committed Division 36 members who began meeting weekly to engage in deep discussions about the identity of our new group and to think of creative ways we could have an impact within our division, our communities, and the world around us. We crafted our identity and values through meaningful, deep, and, sometimes, tense discussions. Through work and advocacy of some of our individual members, we became a recognized Presidential Task Force, received approval for a $25,000 budget, began disseminating grants for research projects that focused on under-represented populations, and conducted a speaker series to bring more awareness within our area of research.

Although our Task Force has produced meaningful work, the real “work” was exclusive of the tasks we completed, in my view. There were moments of ruptures that could be described as microaggressions. Some of our members were becoming hurt, side conversations began occurring, and imbalances of power were not being addressed. At times I felt powerless and anxious in addressing these interactions. I questioned whether my reactions really mattered and whether my perspective was valid enough to engage in conflict with other members of our Task Force group.

Then a few members decided to raise awareness to these dynamics. They openly shared how the impact of the group’s interactions was not inclusive of their cultural identities, they pointed out blind spots of which many group members were not aware and challenged the normative expectations and dynamics of a “working group.” I learned a lot from these courageous members.

It was through these interactions that I realized that I not only possessed power and privilege as a psychologist and as a researcher, but also as a person who was a committed member to this group. I realized that throughout my life, I will always have blind spots; however, that should not be a reason to withhold my experience of pain and observations of others’ pain within this group. I also learned that my perspective and life experiences as a person of color was valuable to myself and others as well. Sharing with others my experiences as an outsider navigating unspoken and unseen rules in a group helps others examine the expectations and misunderstandings, they may have had with other group members.

Although these challenging moments in our Task Force group may appear to take the group many steps backwards, I believe that we took many steps forwards. These difficult conversations helped to restructure the foundation of our community to be more cohesive, diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Through these difficult conversations, I grew in cultural humility and learned important lessons as blind spots were highlighted and difficult dialogues were facilitated. Although I still do not have easy solutions on how to conduct these difficult conversations, I believe that when one is willing to be thrown into the “multicultural dialogue fire,” one, as well as others engaged in the dialogue, will be changed as a consequence. I am appreciative to be a member of Division 49, a community that taught me the importance of openness, courage, and dialogue in the group dynamics and processes – all essential ingredients to create a community that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusivity and belonging.

— Elena E. Kim <