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Monday, March 16, 2009

Addressing the Professional Minority Gap

There are disproportionately few minority and bilingual school psychologists available to serve both regular and special education students.

Ethnicity of School Psychologists

Source: 2004-05 NASP membership survey (69% response rate)

Ethnicity - Percent %
White/Caucasian 92.55%
Hispanic/Latino 2.99%
Black/African American 1.94%
Asian-American/Pacific Islander 0.94%
American Indian/Alaskan Native 0.82%

The United States is hastily becoming more and more culturally diverse. As is seen in the above chart there is an overwhelming amount of Caucasian school psychologists. In urban districts, such as Jersey City, there is a very diverse population in schools. What challenges do we as future psychologists face in dealing with children from other cultures? How can we become more culturally sensitive to their needs and the way that we assess them? How can the field of school psychology make a proactive effort to recruit different ethnicities into this field?

"The greatest distance between people is not space.

The greatest distance between people is culture."

Jamake Highwater (Native American choreographer, author and lecturer, 1932-2001)
This Blog was created by Desiree Antas and Melissa Picariello.


Tjasa said...

If I’m not mistaken, the whole field of psychology attracts mainly Caucasian students. I can’t think of one particular reason of why that is. Perhaps other ethnicities don’t see school psychology as a desirable field since it takes quite some time to finish the program (think how much money we have spent on this program so far). Maybe they opt for careers that pay decently and require only a bachelor’s degree? Most people regardless of their ethnicity are not too thrilled of going to school for a long time without getting paid.

I think that we as future school psychologists have to be open minded about getting to know other ethnic groups and as much as possible about other cultures. Having knowledge of other cultures will help us a great deal when it comes to working in ethnically diverse districts. Dr. Bailey’s (Multicultural Counseling) class helped me get a better understanding of other cultures (it’s important to keep in mind that what is desirable in one culture may not be desirable in other). Also, I think that those of us who come from different cultures have a greater understanding and appreciation for other cultures as opposed to someone who is totally ignorant and does not see further of their own culture (there are a lot of those individuals in this country). Traveling and learning about other cultures would be a good start for any of us to gain some knowledge of other ethnicities.

I’m thinking that other ethnic groups would enter this field in greater numbers if the program didn’t take so long to finish and if they received financial aid (and if starting salary was higher). It would be great if the program were shortened. Also, it would be awesome if one could take more classes per semester and if the university offered more summer courses.

Angelica said...

Even though our nation is becoming more and more culturally diverse as the years pass by, unfortunately the statistics in regards to the field of school psychology continue to portray a caucasian dominated field. Since so many school districts are filled with culturally and linguistically diverse students, as future school psychologists we need to prepare ourselves to face the many challenges that may arise. Obviously, not being culturally savy would create various misunderstanding of difficulties, values, and even certain behaviors that our students may exhibit. Not understanding or being aware of a students cultural and language differences would create a barrier between ourselves and our students. Therefore, we need to enhance our knowledge regarding some of the cultures and values our students may have. We need to prepare ourselves and be aware of our differences and prevent from taking biases in regards to those differences. If we are unaware of our clients cultural difficulties in regards to the acculturation process or in regards to their individual worldviews and language difficulties, how can we be sure that we are properly classifying a student with a learning disability,when that student may simply be having problems learning a new language or adapting to a new culture? As future school psychologists we definitely need to be sensitive to these needs and we need to do whatever we need to do to ensure that we are serving our students in the most competent and adequate manner to ensure that their best interest is at heart.

Jessica S said...

I think that some other cultures view psychology and mental health as a pseudoscience. I know that in many Hispanic cultures, it is considered a weakness if you need mental health services. Perhaps this speaks to why people of races other than white do not enter the field of psychology in general. In addition, with regard to my comment about psychology being a pseudoscience, I know that an Indian friend I had as an undergraduate wanted so much to be a psych major, but her parents would only let her continue with college if she majored in biology and went to med school. Maybe this isn't true across the board, but just a thought.
With students of so many different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, we as school psychologists better take a good look at our student population when we are hired and get started in becoming familiar with both the general cultures and with our students on an individual basis. Whether the tendency to cluster with people who are similar to one's self is learned or innate, the fact remains that this phenomena does exist, so being from a different culture as some of your students will be a challenge from the door. However, should we make the effort to become familiar with cultural and racial nuances, it's a step in the right direction to understanding and relating to our students. It’s difficult to be an effective psychologist if you aren't able to get your clients to be comfortable with you.
Also, if we remain unaware of cultural differences, how can we be sure that we are appropriately assessing our students? Just because a student won't make eye-contact does not indicate that she is rude or depressed. Maybe she's from an Asian culture that considers this an act of defiance toward an adult. Should we call her depressed and classify her as emotional disturbed? Probably not.
If we don't become familiar with our students and their backgrounds, we are doing a disservice to them and ourselves as competent professionals.

Laura M said...

With a disproportionate number of minority children receiving special services and special education, I do believe it is important that the field of school psychology try to recruit minorities into the profession. I wonder if minority populations are underrepresented in other professions as well. Are there a disproportionate number of minority doctors, lawyers or physician assistants? I doubt this is a problem in just our profession. This is probably the case in most professions that require a Masters level degree or beyond. The reason probably lies in the amount of education required to become a school psychologist and the lack of opportunity offered to many minority children as well as inadequate education (low performing school districts) provided to them from the start.

Laura M said...

I response to Tjasa's statement that maybe the program should be shortened to attract other ethnic populations, I do not think this is a great idea. The standards should never be lowered. As it is the APA doesn't even want us to be called School Psychologists because we don't have Doctorates. Imagine if the the job required less education! In order to maintain a level of professionalism, the program should stay the same. I don't think diversity issues should ever trump competence. There must be another solution.

Tahina said...

Jessica S., you are right on target about most Hispanic cultures viewing mental health needs as a weakness. I believe it has a lot to do with people not being informed about what kind of help a psychologist can give. Most Hispanic cultures feel that psychology is all about talking about feelings. They only see the couch and bi-focal wearing doctor taking notes. It also can be considered shameful to talk about your personal business to a complete stranger.

In truth, as a Latina, I wasn't sure I wanted to study Psychology. I didn't see any role-models or mentors to admire. And up until senior year of high school I always thought I would be a lawyer. I can't remember why or who helped me make the decision to study mental health but I'm glad I did. The way I see it, why can't I be the role model that my daughter needs when pursuing a career. I could be the one that makes history doing something important in the field of school psychology. It's not impossible. There's already a great need of Hispanic school psychologists. Now all that’s left is the desire to continue achieving.

Tjasa said...

Laura M.,

Certain classes such as Psychology of Personality, Tests & Measurements, Adolescent Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and Statistics most of us had to take toward getting our BS in Psychology. It would've been useful if we didn't have to take those classes all over again.

It is a different story if someone didn't get their bachelor's degree in Psychology and was not familiar with them. Those individuals would of course have to take those classes.

I don't know whether you're familiar with this but some school that also offer PD in school psychology require their students to take 60 credits. Our program requires us to take 74 credits!

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could be done in 2 years with the entire program? Yes, you would have to take summer courses and winter trimester courses but I think it would be worth it. The standards would not be lowered. I definitely think that this could be done but I don't think it's in anyone’s interest (the university wants us to be here as long as possible so they would get more money).

SBartolozzi said...

I agree with Jessica when she said we need to get acquainted with the area that we are hired in and learn what cultures are dominant there. I think that if we educate ourselves in as many of the cultures that are present as possible, we will at least be familiar with some cultural traditions and any barriers that we might face as school psychologists.

One thing that Dr. Pastor had said that I really remember was "don't be afraid to ask." If an issue comes up that might be a cultural situation, we cannot be too shy to ask them about it. I think that by doing that, we show respect for the person and the culture itself. We also show our willingness to learn about it and to put ourself in their shoes. I don't think that the person would have any problem telling us about their culture and maybe they would give us more insight into their life. Getting as much background information is important to get a good overall picture of the client.

I think that cultural issues are such a big part of our field that we might necessarily always be thinking about. We will have to focus more on these issues when we are in our jobs, and we will constantly be learning about new cultures. There is obviously no way to learn about every culture, but to be aware of the ones that we will encounter more often will be a step in the right direction

Laura M said...

You are right, there are other school psych programs that are only 62 credits, however, they require that you already have taken those classes that you mentioned as an undergrad as a prerequestite to getting into the program. It would be nice if those of us who have already taken them could get a waiver, it would cut a semester off the time it takes to complete the program. But this won't solve the lack of diversity in the field, which is why I think NJCU doesn't place those requirements on incoming grad students - so that they can hopefully attract a more diverse crowd into the program.

And a paid internship would be nice too!!!! That probably factors into the lack of minority representation too.

Tami said...

I am also not sure why the field of psychology does not track as many minority students, and why mainly Caucasians tend to major in psychology. As diversity increases in this country and especially in our school systems, I feel it would be beneficial if more minority students decided to enter the field. However, this is something that will probably, if ever, change gradually; it will not occur over night. With this being said, as future school psychologists we must learn how to deal with diverse students and learn as much as we can about other cultures. It will be very important in our professional careers that we learn as much as possible about other cultural backgrounds. In order to help assess and work with children of different cultures, knowledge about their culture is essential. We must be open minded to values other cultures have, and always remember that everyone does not have the same beliefs and customs as ourselves. I definitely agree with what Dr. Pastor said about not being afraid to ask. Asking information in order to gain knowledge that we currently do not have about another culture will only benefit us, and allow us to better understand and help the students we will be working with. Like many others have already stated, it is impossible to know everything about every culture in the world, but knowing as much as possible is key.

Jessica S said...

Reducing the number of credits required to complete this program isn't the answer. I almost feel like that would be "dumbing it down", and I don't think that that sends the right message. As a woman, which is considered a minority in the professional world,although this is changing, I would be upset if an computer science progam shortened it's program b/c they thought it would attrack more women. to me, I would wonder why they thought we couldn't handle it. Just a thought.
I do think that it is important to reach out to students of all different backgrounds, although I'm not sure how. There's a lot of talent out there, and it comes inmany different colors.

Roxane N said...

I believe that the lack of minorities in the field of school psychology may be related to the lack of minorities in higher education. However, it is probably disproportionate to even this statistic. I think that the way to recruit different ethnicity is to continue to work to make mental health something that is talked about and acceptable. There is still some stigma associated with psychology and 'shrinks'. By endeavoring to have mental health care something that is acceptable and encouraged across ethnicities, cultures, etc. more people from different backgrounds will join the field.

I think that one thing we can do to become more culturally sensitive is to get involved with parents and different community representatives through our schools. By engaging in open communication and dialogue, we can learn a lot about their culture.

jesse s said...

I think that the idea of shortening the length of school psychology programs could be attractive to all cultures, especially those that are known to have a lower socioeconomic status. In order to shorten the program and still ensure students get the same amount of education I think that entrance exams should be mandatory. By testing students prior to entrance it can be determined whether or not some of their undergraduate course work can be used to fulfill some requirements of the program. By doing so students will be required to know the same amount of information, however they will not be made to take classes several times. In doing so the program could be completed quicker and therefore less money would be spent. Some schools do in fact require a GRE to be taken in psychology in order to enter the program. If this form of testing was used as a way to allow students with strong knowledge of the subject matter to be exempt from those classes it would be attractive to students who once thought of a master degree as too expensive.