Diversity mentorship program spotlight
By Kennetha Frye, MS
Hi SASP members,
I hope all is well. In this issue of FSTP we included another mentor/mentee spotlight to highlight for current SASP members, the benefits of having a SASP diversity mentor. This issue's mentor/mentee pair is Dr. Dave Shriberg and Michael Watson. Both have been members of the program since January. Michael is a third-year doctoral student in the school psychology program at the University of Central Arkansas and has interests in intervention/prevention and emotional disturbance. Shriberg is an associate professor at Loyola University-Chicago. His research interests focus on diversity and social justice issues, school-family-community collaboration, and combating bullying. Shriberg also serves on the APA Div. 16 executive committee and is a member of the Social Justice and Child Rights Div, 16 working group. Please see below for their story.
From Michael Watson
What have you enjoyed most about the mentor/mentee experience?
The mentor experience has provided me with an opportunity to learn from one of the major contributors to social justice within the field of school psychology. Dr. David Shriberg has planted a seed in my mind that is beginning to grow in the area of social justice regarding how we as school psychologists can contribute by encouraging individuals to step outside their comfort zones and speak out against injustice in our schools and our communities. Our work with individuals from diverse backgrounds places us on the front line of demonstrating the most effective ways of working with everyone. Therefore, we must always try to put our best foot forward when we are acting as ambassadors and advocates in the various settings we are part of.
What topics with regard to diversity have you discussed with your mentor?
With regard to diversity, our conversation addressed an actual presentation Dr. Shriberg gave entitled "Social Justice in the Field of School Psychology." It was interesting to hear the perspective of a person, from a background totally different than mine, express the same concerns I have about the field as it relates to diversity. The most important lesson I have learned from Dr. Shriberg is the necessity of, first, admitting there is a problem and, second, taking action to redress it. Pertaining to school psychology, we must promote and encourage diversity to increase our knowledge of what we view as average or typical.
Do you plan to collaborate on any research projects with your mentor?
We have not discussed any research projects, but I plan to hang on to Dr. Shriberg's coattails as he promotes social justice within the field of school psychology.
From Dr. Dave Shriberg
What is your opinion on the future of multiculturalism within the field of school psychology?
I think this is an open question. On the one hand, I think you will see the emergence of incredible people like Michael who represent the next generation of talent in the field. It may be just that I have become more aware of this group, but it seems to me that since first entering the field in 1997 more and more students, practitioners, supervisors, and professors are attuned to multiculturalism and view it as only natural and appropriate that school psychologists should strive to be as culturally responsive as possible. So, this is a positive development.
On the other hand, the field remains incredibly nondiverse by almost any measure, very out of step with U.S. demographics, not to mention the world. Although as a white heterosexual male I certainly would be the first to speak to the responsibility we all have to be allies when we are in a position of privilege, if the field continues to be so disproportionately out of step demographically, it is hard for me to see how multicultural school psychology can achieve its potential. This is one reason why I see mentorship as so important—we cannot afford to lose even one talented student who brings something important to the table when it comes to multicultural school psychology.
However, for the field to have a positive future when it comes to multicultural school psychology, there needs to be a critical examination at the local, state, national, and international level not only of the positives, but of ways in which the field may be falling short. In what ways has school psychology historically and in the present supported injustice, even if unintentionally? What barriers are there to progress in multicultural school psychology? While many, many individuals think about this, I don't see a kind of focused attention on what Paulo Friere labeled praxis—reflection and action upon the world in order to change it—within the field. I am proud to be a school psychologist, but I think we tend to spend too much time patting ourselves on the back and not enough time thinking about ways the field can be improved when it comes to multicultural school psychology. A healthy field is not afraid to look critically at itself and to ask the tough questions. For example, is the expansion of school psychology across the globe leading to the importation of white, male, Christian, heterosexist, Western privilege, or will school psychology be able to adapt to the needs and values of different cultures and countries? I do not claim to have a full answer to this kind of question, but I do feel that these are the kinds of questions that will need to be asked for multicultural school psychology to achieve its potential. Finally, I think we need to realize that while it is our job as school psychologists to pose these kinds of questions, we have to realize that we are not the ones who have all the answers. For example, I think one way to answer these kinds of questions is to understand better whether persons from all backgrounds who experience school psychologists in the U.S. and abroad are more likely to say that school psychology is being done to them or with them. If it's the second, then I am more optimistic about the future of multicultural school psychology.
What comes to mind when you reflect on this mentorship experience?
I have only just recently met Michael, so while he clearly is exceptional, it is hard to reflect fully on this. About a year and a half ago, my primary mentor as a graduate student, Ena Vazquez-Nuttall of Northeastern University, passed away. Ena was an incredible mentor to me—she was just such an ethical person, such a strong leader (she was the only school psychologist in the group that created the first set of multicultural guidelines for APA in the 1980s), and someone who gave so much to me as a mentor. After she died I found myself thinking of her more and more, particularly as a group of us wrote a professional obituary that ultimately appeared in the Communique and The School Psychologist in 2012. What she taught me was that the best mentors do not try to create miniature versions of themselves, but try to help their mentees bring out the best in themselves as multicultural leaders, whatever that looks like. So, while I in no way can compare myself to her, if I am able to model even half of the generosity and humanity that she gave to me every day and if Michael feels even a fraction as comfortable with me as I was with her, I feel that this will be a very positive experience for both of us.