Navigating Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging in the COVID Era: 

A Four-Year Reflection and Passing the Baton

As I conclude my four-year tenure as the Domain Representative–Diversity and Chair of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Committee, I find myself contemplating a period marked by unique challenges and profound transformation. I initially stepped into this role in 2020, serving for one year to replace a former Domain Representative-Diversity, followed by a full 3-year term. I feel privileged to have collaborated with the Board throughout these four years, under the guidance of former Division 49 Presidents – Cheri, Josh, Amy, and Noelle.

In 2020, the emergence of the COVID pandemic, coupled with the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic killing, presented us with unprecedented opportunities to enhance and reinforce our dedication to the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. The COVID pandemic disproportionately impacted marginalized communities and, in conjunction with the tragic events surrounding George Floyd’s death, brought systemic inequities to the forefront of our collective consciousness. These events served as a compelling call to action for our committee, spurring us to strengthen our commitment to fostering equity and confronting systemic biases in our practices.

The tragic circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death further underscored our commitment to dismantling systemic barriers, prompting us to scrutinize our policies and practices to advocate for equity both within and beyond Division 49. In just a few months, in addition to the APA Div. 49 DEIB Committee’s COVID and Racial Injustice Resources, we hosted a series of diversity presentations. This initiative kicked off with Aziza’s “Black Lives Matter in Therapy Groups Too” on July 20, 2020, and all presentation recordings are accessible on Division 49’s YouTube channel here 

 “Diversity is having a seat at the table; inclusion is having a voice;  

belonging is having that voice be heard.” ~ @LizandMollie

Belonging has emerged as the cornerstone of our strategy for strengthening group cohesion in an era shaped by the COVID pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Having been elected as the Domain Representative–Diversity for the term spanning 2021-2023, I took the initiative to request the Division to rename the Diversity Committee as the “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging” Committee. This change was proposed to better encompass the interconnected nature of these four vital principles. 

It was thus heartening for me to observe the phrase “You Belong Here” prominently displayed throughout the 2023 APA convention in Washington D.C., a poignant response to the profound isolation imposed by the pandemic, which underscored the need for a sense of connection and community. Under Shala’s leadership, we successfully implemented Division 49’s institute. This initiative has not only provided mentorship opportunities for student members and early career psychologists but has also established a network of resources and support. It has further led to several social events, both virtual and in-person at APA, all of which have been instrumental in fostering deeper and more meaningful connections among our members.

Now it is my pleasure to introduce our new Domain Representative-Diversity and DEIB Committee Chair for the next three years, David Songco. As you can see from his  remarks below, he brings to the role a wealth of knowledge and an inspiring vision. As I draft this final column, I found myself experiencing varied emotions in response to current geopolitical conflicts both within the United States and across the globe, not to mention the migrant crisis that directly impacts us here in NYC. By contrast, as the outgoing DEIB Committee Chair, I am filled with humility and gratitude for having had the privilege to serve Division 49 over the past four years of extraordinary challenges. Our journey has been characterized by resilience, adaptability, and an unwavering commitment to our mission. I deeply appreciate your unwavering support, and I look forward to witnessing the growth and success of the DEIB Committee under David’s leadership.

Email Eric C. Chen, Chair, DEIB Committee

New Domain Representative–Diversity and DEIB Committee Chair (2024-2026): David Songco

Introductions can be difficult in so many ways, especially within the space of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB). The immediate pull and conflict that come to mind are, “how do I introduce myself and in doing so, what identities am I privileged to hold and what identities might I be leaving out.” So to begin, I’m taking a page from a new friend of mine as he facilitated an “ice melter” – “Tell me something meaningful or significant about your name.”

My name is David Songco, pronounced song – co. My first name was given to me after my late grandfather on my mother’s side. My family name is Filipino from the province of Pampanga, derived from the clans who immigrated from province of Hainan in China. I currently live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with my partner and two daughters. Professionally, I am an Assistant Professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and serve as the Director of Behavioral Medicine within the Department of Family and Community Medicine at two of our Family Medicine Residency Training Programs. I am humbled and honored to be your Domain Representative for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging for Division 49. 

I have many strategic priorities for our division to help increase and promote the values of the DEIB Committee and to establish an inclusive and equitable space for our membership and community.

Priority 1: Understanding the Landscape

Before implementing actionable steps, I will invite participation from across Division membership to do a comprehensive assessment of where we are and where we perceive ourselves to be within the DEIB Landscape. While nobody wants another survey, my hope is that brief and broad participation can then lead to more involved group discussions and interactive sessions to understand members’ experiences and gauge the existing levels of diversity and inclusion. Recognizing areas of improvement and acknowledging successes will provide a solid foundation for tailored strategies.

Priority 2: Education and Training

Education forms the cornerstone of any transformative journey. To ensure that our membership are well-equipped to handle diverse group dynamics and foster inclusivity and belonging, I will be working closely with our Education and Training Committee to develop and offer programs that delve into cultural competency, systemic biases, and more. Through workshops, seminars, and “difficult dialogues,” we can stay updated on best practices in group psychotherapy and group psychology that cater to all.

Priority 3: Recruitment, Retention, and Collaboration

Realizing that diversity starts within, I am committed to broadening our recruitment strategies to ensure that the membership of Division 49 reflects the population and communities we serve. This includes seeking out psychologists from various backgrounds, experiences, and identities. Retention efforts are equally crucial, ensuring that once professionals join, they find an environment that supports their growth and recognizes their unique contributions to the field of group psychotherapy and group psychology. Lastly, to reinforce efforts in belonging, I will help facilitate collaboration and joint programing with other APA divisions and entities including but not limited to, the Asian American Psychological Association, Association of Black Psychologists, Division 36, and Division 44, and Division 52. 

Priority 4: Mentorship Programs

Supporting the next generation of psychologists is integral to perpetuating the DEIB priorities. My hope is to explore, enhance and develop any mentorship programs that are currently in place, formally or informally, and collaborate with the Division 49 Institute. This mentorship program will connect seasoned professionals with early career psychologists and graduate student members of our division. These relationships serve as a nurturing ground for early professionals, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, to learn, grow, and thrive in the field of group psychology and psychotherapy.

DEIB Value: Open Dialogues

Our journey towards diversity and inclusion is an ongoing one. I am excited to work closely with the DEIB committee to set up regular platforms for open dialogues where members can discuss challenges, share successes, and brainstorm innovative solutions to continue pushing the envelope on DEIB initiatives.

I am excited to serve you, the division membership, and seek to explore possible opportunities and ideas that each of you may have related to these priorities. Through systematic efforts spanning education, recruitment, and mentorship, the Division is not just reacting to global demands for equity and inclusion but is proactively setting a commendable standard for others to emulate. The psychology of groups is ever evolving, and with these DEIB initiatives, the Division ensures it evolves in a direction that cherishes every individual’s unique identity and experience and help each member feel that they have a professional home.”

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