“Feminist scholarship has repeatedly demonstrated that how and what we come to know depends on who we are.” —Morawski, 1990, p. 175
In July 1892, the prominent psychologist G. Stanley Hall, associated with Clark University, gathered a small group of peers to establish the American Psychological Association (APA). However, the inaugural meeting in December of the same year saw the addition of 31 new members, all of whom were white and male (Fernberger, 1932). As psychology developed through the first half of the 20th century, the presence of women within the field gradually increased. A survey conducted in 1946 by psychologists Alice Bryan and Edwin Boring found that out of 2,672 doctoral-level psychologists who participated, 24 percent were women (Bryan & Boring, 1946). During this period, there was minimal attention given to the underrepresentation of non-white psychologists.
The ratio of women in psychology remained relatively consistent until the late 1960s, at which point a significant shift occurred. The substantial growth in the number of women in the field commenced in the early 1970s, largely attributed to the influence of the second wave of the women’s movement. This trend has continued steadily since then. In 1960, women comprised 17.5 percent of recipients of doctoral degrees in psychology within the United States. By the year 2000, this figure had risen to 66.6 percent (Women’s Programs Office, 2006). Notably, certain branches of psychology, particularly its applied sectors, have increasingly become female-dominated professions.
Simultaneously, the 1960s witnessed significant cultural and political transformations that had an impact on the representation of minority psychologists. The civil rights movement and the rise of black nationalism set the stage for the challenges faced by black psychologists in both institutional and theoretical realms. Their activism paved the way for other minority groups, including Latino/Latina psychologists and Asian American psychologists, to demand greater acknowledgment and support for their concerns within a predominantly white, Eurocentric psychological establishment. While the progress in the number of ethnic minority psychologists has been gradual in comparison to the influx of women psychologists, both male and female minority psychologists have consistently challenged and reshaped the foundational aspects of the field, encompassing its institutions, theories, and practical applications.
In this section, our focus spans the history of women and feminism within the realm of American psychology. The initial part of our exploration touches upon the works of early women psychologists who utilized the emerging tools of psychology to challenge prevalent stereotypes and biases directed at women. This section also offers a concise overview of the status of women within the profession during the mid-20th century, accentuating the activities during the era of World War II. Concluding this segment, we delve into the significant impact of second-wave feminism on both psychological theory and practice, as well as on the structural framework of psychology itself.
Shifting our attention to the latter half of this section, we delve into the history of ethnic minority psychologists. Notable African American pioneers are spotlighted for their contributions and lives, shedding light on the fact that American psychology initially drew only a limited number of minority psychologists, showing little awareness of their concerns and criticisms until more recent times. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that dedicated individuals and groups began advocating for greater recognition of ethnic minority issues within psychology, ultimately leading to an increased receptivity within the field. We explore the sequence of events within American psychology that prompted these transformations and delve into the influence that ethnic minority psychologists have had on the processes and outcomes of psychology.
It’s important to note that the scope of this research paper remains confined to developments in the American context. Readers with an interest in the history and status of psychologies developed in other countries, as well as efforts by psychologists globally to formulate theories and practices tailored to their unique local circumstances, can consult an expanding body of literature including works by Brock (2006), Kim and Berry (1993), and Paranjpe (2002). We stress once more that the identity of psychologists inevitably shapes the knowledge we gain within psychology. Consequently, as indigenous psychologies flourish across the globe and the diversity of American psychologists expands, the potential for generating psychological knowledge that resonates with and elucidates the multifaceted human experience becomes increasingly achievable.
Women in Psychology
- First-Wave “Feminist” Psychologists
- Women in Psychology at Mid-Century
- Second-Wave Feminism and Psychology
Minorities in Psychology
In this section, our attention is directed towards the historical involvement of racial and ethnic minorities within the field of psychology in the United States. While the exploration of minorities’ histories in psychology in other countries and cultures offers valuable comparisons (see chapters in Bond, 1997; Louw, 2002; Richards, 1997), our focus remains on the U.S. context. It’s crucial to recognize the transient nature of this account, given the changing demographics of the United States. As Americans of European descent are projected to become the numerical minority by 2050, our narrative remains provisional. The evolution of the field over the next century may lead to a substantially different emphasis than what is presented here.
G. Stanley Hall’s establishment of the American Psychological Association in 1892 brought together members from various scientific and scholarly domains, including psychology, philosophy, physiology, and medicine. However, during its early years and for a considerable time thereafter, the membership was exclusively composed of individuals of white racial and ethnic background. This absence of racial and ethnic minorities was reflective of the broader societal context, which was deeply rooted in white elitism.
The educational system, at its inception, favored those of Anglo-Saxon or northern European descent, leading to disparate opportunities for education. For minority children, educational opportunities were characterized by inequality in terms of resources and quality, perpetuating racial disparities. The turn of the 20th century marked a significant shift, as issues of race and ethnicity gained prominence. The African American scholar and sociologist W. E. B. DuBois encapsulated this challenge in his famous statement, “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line” (p. 1).
The history of racial and ethnic minorities’ involvement in psychology is intricately woven with their determination to carve a niche within the field and shape a body of knowledge that aligns with their values and heritage. A pivotal account of the early struggles in this endeavor is chronicled by African American psychologist-historian Robert V. Guthrie (1998). Notably, black individuals were conspicuously absent from conventional histories of psychology by authors like Boring and Murphy. Instead, minorities primarily appeared as research subjects, often being subjects of studies exploring racial differences. Regrettably, these studies frequently resulted in conclusions that unjustly indicated the inferiority of African Americans or other minority groups (Richards, 1997).
Despite the marginalization of racial and ethnic minorities in the field’s history, there were indeed individuals from minority backgrounds participating in applied psychology. Educational opportunities for minorities were severely limited in the early 20th century, particularly for those seeking education beyond a bachelor’s degree. However, psychology gained popularity as a degree choice within historically black colleges and universities. These institutions placed greater emphasis on the applied aspects of psychology, particularly in fields like education and guidance counseling. This orientation enabled students to return to their communities and provide practical services through schools and churches. During the early years of psychology’s existence (around 1879-1920), minority communities, primarily African American, embraced psychology’s teachings and applications.
It’s essential to bear in mind that due to the scarcity of higher education opportunities for minorities, many African American communities focused on sending a small group of bright students, often referred to as the “talented tenth” by DuBois (1903), to college for training as teachers, ministers, lawyers, dentists, and doctors. This approach aimed to uplift the community through the expertise of these educated individuals.
- Early African American Psychologists
- The Clarks’ Contributions
- The Association of Black Psychologists
Toward Inclusiveness in 21st-Century Psychology
The journey toward inclusivity within 21st-century psychology has undoubtedly seen advancements, particularly in terms of integrating diversity into the field’s agenda. However, it remains evident that ethnic minorities’ representation within organizations like APA (American Psychological Association) continues to fall behind the demographics of the U.S. population. Additionally, resistance to wholeheartedly incorporating cultural competence into training programs, especially in professional fields like clinical, counseling, and school psychology, still persists.
Searching for a role model in this endeavor might lead us to many professional training schools, a number of which offer the Doctor of Psychology degree. These institutions offer successful blueprints for diversity-focused training. In the finest programs, the administration and faculty share certain qualities:
- Commitment from All Stakeholders: All parties involved, from leadership to faculty, are genuinely dedicated to diversity and inclusiveness.
- Adequate Financial Support: Availability of grants, fellowships, and other financial resources to support diversity initiatives.
- Flexible Admission Criteria: Consideration of applicants’ life experiences, recognizing that diversity encompasses a broad spectrum of backgrounds.
- Diverse Faculty Representation: Presence of one or more faculty members from minority backgrounds, contributing to diverse perspectives and mentorship opportunities.
- Nurturing Environment: Creating an atmosphere that fosters support, understanding, and respect for individuals from all backgrounds.
- Cultural Diversity Integration: Incorporating cultural diversity not as a standalone module but seamlessly weaving it into every facet of the program.
These successful models showcase a comprehensive approach to fostering inclusivity and cultural competence within the field of psychology. While challenges persist, these examples offer promising strategies for achieving a more diverse and inclusive psychological community that better mirrors the diverse society it serves.
Indeed, the characteristics outlined are pivotal, yet they cannot be imposed in a uniform manner. Each program must craft an approach that resonates with the unique needs and dynamics of their environment. Recognizing the evolving demographics of U.S. society, embracing diversity has shifted from being a choice to being an imperative for psychology to maintain its relevance both as a discipline and a profession. The success of such initiatives has the potential to cultivate a robust pipeline of minority psychologists, which in turn holds the promise of a progressively more diverse field.
As the composition of psychologists becomes more diverse, the impact on the body of psychological knowledge becomes increasingly significant. The insights and perspectives of individuals from various backgrounds enrich the discipline’s understanding of human behavior and mental processes, rendering psychological knowledge more applicable and meaningful to its wide-ranging audience. In embracing diversity, psychology is poised to shape a future where its contributions are deeply relevant and resonate with the diverse tapestry of human experience.
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