What’s Next for the Multicultural Competence Movement?

“Psychologists should do more than address the downstream consequences of racism, but also work to tackle racism itself,” said Brian Smedley, PhD, during a session examining the past, present, and future of the multicultural competence movement. Smedley spoke about his work addressing health inequities in communities of color by examining structural causes, especially segregated communities.

In addition to providing an in-depth review of the important achievements of the multicultural competence movement, Lillian Comas-Diaz, PhD, offered her suggestions for future areas of focus. She called upon psychologists to consider ways to integrate folk healing into our work, to explore psychospirituality, to examine intersectionality, and to develop transnational and international competence.

The role of psychologists in doing advocacy work to dismantle systems of oppression was identified as one of the key areas for the future of the multicultural competence movement. Rebecca Toporek, PhD, described how the multicultural competence movement and social justice movement have worked together (and indeed need each other). She invited audience members to reflect on their own experience of the interaction of the two, asking participants to consider the reason they decided to study multicultural competence and what keeps them going in the face of obstacles. She surmised that for many in the room, the drive to work for social justice sustained individuals when they met roadblocks in their work in multicultural education.

However, very few psychologists receive direct training about how to blend social justice work into their roles, often feeling constrained to focus solely on work with individuals (and families/couples). Toporek suggested that many feel hesitant to take the next step toward action, believing there should be separation among science, practice and activism. Training programs can address this reluctance and find ways to educate graduate students about social justice advocacy and activism, provide training about policy and acknowledge the structural causes of inequity.

I teach the diversity/ multicultural counseling course in our master’s program and have begun to integrate advocacy training into the curriculum. Students learn about the many ways counselors and psychologists engage in advocacy and activism and develop proposals for advocacy projects. Some of the students have actually gone on to implement the projects at the university and within the community. Although students are often surprised that the course includes discussions of advocacy, many embrace this aspect of the course and ask for additional resources. Their enthusiasm makes me hopeful about the future of the multicultural competence movement and the profession.

One thought on “What’s Next for the Multicultural Competence Movement?

  1. I have worried that the entire psych industry is in a sort of conflict of interest if they DON’t advocate, especially as regards child-rearing. It’s seems like an industry that sells damage repair and mitigation, so any opportunity it misses to advocate for children’s rights (against parental proprietary rights over children) would seem to keep the customers coming . . .

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