If you are downtown in the next three days and want to talk to an expert about community empowerment, grassroots organizing, neighborhood dynamics, coalition building, and all the good things that make for a competent, healthy, and just society where you live, just look for one of the 660 community psychologists in town for a big conference hosted by UMass Lowell. They are the ones with the SCRA badges on string around their necks. They come from all over the U.S. as well as from Canada, Australia, Chile, Italy, England, Egypt, and elsewhere. It’s the 15th Biennial Conference of the Society for Community Research and Action. Note the word “action” in the organization’s title. That makes this group different than some other scholarly organizations. There is a strong emphasis on putting ideas into action, applying the theories, practicing what is preached right at the sidewalk level.
Yesterday, if you were downtown, you may have seen clusters of the conference attendees walking around, eating lunch at a sidewalk table, checking out the galleries, shops, and museums, and exploring the historic district with all the preserved buildings. In the lobby of the UML Inn & Conference Center I heard people talking about the national park museum exhibits, the array of restaurants, the rushing white water at the canal gatehouse near the ICC, and the fascinating diversity of people in the city. Conference registration opened on Thursday, so some folks had already been out looking around yesterday morning.
For three years, a committee from the graduate program in Community Social Psychology at UMass Lowell led by professor Andy Hostetler, who lives in Lowell, has been putting together this gathering. It’s a coup for the university to host the meeting because this marks the 50th anniversary of a meeting in Swampscott, Mass., where, essentially, the discipline of community psychology was launched. As Andy says, “The conference will honor the past accomplishments of community psychologists while also outlining an agenda for the next 50 years.” It’s all about promoting “individual, family, community, and global well-being,” a large undertaking, but really basic to living and working in the kind of communities that represent the best in us. This is a good time to be a community psychologist. We have a community organizer-in-chief in the White House with President Barack Obama.
The UMass Lowell master’s program in community psychology is marking its 35th anniversary this year. For full disclosure I should report that I am an alumnus of the program. And the university now offers a doctor of philosophy in Applied Psychology and Prevention Science with concentrations in community and applied psychology, applied cognitive psychology, and applied developmental psychology. Psychology is a popular program for undergratuates on campus, too.