NMCS Travel Award Winner Essays

Winner: Advancing intersectional research as ethical issue

Continuing to advance theoretical and empirical research about the relationship between intersecting identities and psychosocial variables is imperative.

By Andrew Choi

Many feelings and thoughts emerge as I reflect on my participation with the National Multicultural Conference and Summit in Atlanta. It was heartening to see panels, symposiums and paper presentations taking different angles to understand intersecting identities with discerning acumen, while not losing touch with the complex lived experience associated with them. However, I continued to marvel and recognize that the psychological study of intersectionality is still in its early infancy. The counseling psychology community has long valued having, at least, a basic understanding of any social identity and how it may shape psychological experiences as they relate to applied and clinical contexts. We have now come to recognize the importance of having a likewise understanding of how social identities may intersect in both conflictual and integrative ways.

In moving forward with how intersectional perspectives on human experiences bear on professional ethics, therefore, I believe that it will be imperative to continue advancing theoretical and empirical research regarding the relationship between intersecting identities and psychosocial variables. With regard to ethics and training, it is important to consider the ethical issue of students (who may bring multiple intersecting identities to their work) being trained and evaluated in educational contexts that do not represent or support diversity. By advancing diverse forms (e.g., qualitative, quantitative, psychometric) of rigorous research in these areas, we will be better equipped in terms of having a more substantial literature base from which to educate future generations of psychologists.

I believe that we are still in need of new theoretical models of how intersecting identities develop and are psychologically organized, as well as empirical research that employs advanced techniques (e.g., structural equations) to paint a more comprehensive and nuanced picture of how psychological variables manifest across intersectional contexts. Another topic involves understanding, from a strengths-based vantage, various psychosocial faculties in which those with intersecting identities may experience elevated ability. For example, Brewster, Moradi, DeBlaere, and Velez (2013) modeled bisexual people's (who experience intersections of heterosexuality and homosexuality) elevated cognitive flexibility, which was a valuable extension of the predominant tradition (although no less important) of documenting elevated psychiatric issues across marginalized populations.

The combination of these research activities will support the training of future trainees, both in terms of didactic experiences and by better legitimatizing and representing in the literature the experiences of students with diverse backgrounds. On a more conceptual level, I believe that new theoretical and empirical work that centralizes intersectionality can facilitate our discipline to reevaluate unquestioned psychological assumptions in ways that can lead all of our constituents to adapt a less static, and more dynamic, understanding of their experiences. It is my opinion that these constitute ethical values of integrity, fidelity (e.g., representing and studying psychological phenomenon in ways that generate accurate information), as well as justice (e.g., social justice and the redressing of systematic oppression that impairs equal opportunity and dignity).

Reference

Brewster, M. E., Moradi, B., DeBlaere, C., & Velez, B. L. (2013). Navigating the borderlands: The roles of minority stressors, bicultural self-efficacy, and cognitive flexibility in the mental health of bisexual individuals. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60 (4), 543-556. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0033224