In my work, I collaborate with students and professionals to dismantle the “armor of ignorance” that sustains injustice. Together, we explore and validate the pain of discrimination. Simultaneously, we engage in a difficult journey of coming to know the "other," to see ourselves within them and them within us, to care for and about them, and to see and share the pain of injustice. This is a process of understanding and feeling the everyday realities of oppression and privilege, along with the practical and relational costs of these inequities. Dismantling the armor enables understanding of the systems of privilege that we create and maintain and the development of empathy.
Empathy is the ability to feel with another, not just for another. Empathy involves the willingness to hold another’s pain alongside one’s own. This kind of empathy forms the basis of authentic relationships and motivates the transformation of pain into action. As (then) Senator Obama said in 2006: “Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world—one that makes you understand that your obligations to others extend beyond people who look like you and act like you and live in your neighborhood…. it’s not always easy…. But I hope you don’t do what’s easy. I hope you do what’s hard.”
I hold the hope that my scholarship and teaching can encourage doing what is hard by illustrating the personal, relational, and systemic benefits of choosing that path. In my experience, as you come to understand the personal responsibility inherent in your choices, you become empowered to transform pain into action that reduces the negative impact of racism and social injustice for yourself and others.
The concept of bridges is central to my professional goals and identity. Bridges enable travel and communication between spaces that would otherwise be difficult to reach. We usually think about bridges connecting separated physical spaces, but there are many separated social spaces, particularly spaces separated by differential power and privilege. These include different racial and ethnic communities; communities based on other social statuses such as sexual orientation, social class, gender, and ability; different academic fields; and the areas of scholarship, practice and teaching within academia generally and within psychology specifically.
Building bridges successfully involves understanding both similarities and differences. It also involves emphasizing ways in which both similarities and differences can contribute to greater strength through collaborations and connections. Building bridges to connect social spaces within and between communities separated by differential power and privilege involves also recognizing that privilege is relative and not fixed or absolute and realizing the interdependence of individual experiences and social influences/systems. Emphasizing building bridges enables me to place my professional activities (teaching, scholarship, and service) in relation to my goal of contributing to social justice.
Four primary themes in my teaching, scholarship, and community coaction that support my praxis of bridge-building are: multiple voices, integrative listening, critical responsibility, and gestalt.
Multiple Voices: Psychology is increasingly acknowledging that traditional practices within education, scholarship, and practice have silenced, marginalized, and/or pathologized individuals and groups with less social power (e.g. racial and ethnic minorities, women, working class and poor people). Asian American Studies grew out of this recognition and its application to Asian American students and communities. Asian American Studies is therefore founded in transforming education and resisting its potential negative effects in relation to racial justice. Building interdisciplinary bridges between psychology and Asian American Studies has enabled me to better integrate teaching, scholarship, and practice/service in the service of social justice for Asian Americans.
Making space for multiple voices to resist silence and marginalization is one goal that guides my teaching, scholarship, and service. Many people in less privileged positions--such as Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic minorities or immigrants and refugees--frequently feel silenced, particularly when their needs and experiences are not reflected in the classroom, the media, the literature/scholarship, or the institutions, organizations, and systems with which they engage. This experience of silencing and marginalization shapes people's self-views and empowerment. Each choice made by educators and scholars in curriculum, pedagogy, scholarship content, and methodology contributes to these processes and social consequences. Actively inviting, encouraging, and validating diverse voices is one way to resist the silencing and marginalization that less privileged people frequently experience.
However, it is not enough to simply invite and validate the experiential voices of those who have been silenced. To contribute to social justice, educators, researchers, and social justice advocates must also invite the recognition, naming, and exploration of social and historical contexts and forces that contribute to silencing. This exploration empowers those in less privileged positions, such as Asian Americans, by fostering understanding of the systems that may silence them and through considering ways to actively change those forces and not just cope with their consequences. This exploration also enables those in more privileged positions to contribute to resisting the silence and marginalization of others through understanding their privilege and utilizing it to resist oppressive forces rather than maintain them. Thus, exploring multiple voices and the forces that contribute to voice or silence builds bridges between those with more and less privilege These bridges enable individuals to become allies in challenging those processes and systems that silence and marginalize people in different spaces and statuses.
Integrative Listening: Active listening is at the core of good education, therapy, socially relevant scholarship, and social activism. Listening involves intentionally making space for shared voices and communicating one's own openness to learn from others. Engaged, integrative listening also involves actively working to hear what is intended by the speaker and exploring this in relation to what is actually heard (which may be quite different than what is intended). The way that something is expressed by a speaker and what is actually heard by the listener is inevitably filtered through the speaker's and the listener's own experiences and sociocultural, historical contexts. Exploring these filters contributes to better ability to make real connections. The simultaneous exploration of individual intention, individual reception, and social systemic meaning enables the connection of the personal and the social, and leads to the recognition of lived complexity and the integration of multiple areas of knowing.
Integrative listening is a skill that can be developed and modeled through education, scholarship, and community coaction. Alternatively, pedagogical, methodological, and organizational approaches can discourage the development of this skill through emphasizing one way communication, epistemological hierarchies, and authoritarian leadership. These practices isolate individuals, groups, and communities. This isolation contributes to divisive competition and continuing social oppression.
Integrative listening enables teachers to hear students and students to hear each other, even if they are coming from very different viewpoints. It also enables scholarship to hear and be responsive to the voices of individuals, groups, and communities when scholars actively listen to these voices, rather than assuming they already know what is best. Integrative listening enables the kind of empathy and understanding that is essential to critical thinking and effective bridge-building.
Critical Responsibility: Bridges are designed to play important social and cultural (as well economic and political) roles. But bridges are only effective in creating connections if they are well used. People must actively desire to make the journey across the bridge. I believe that personal and social awareness is the foundation of that desire. Fostering this awareness involves facilitating understanding the personal effects of actions and systems, appreciating how systems are created and maintained by individuals and groups making personal decisions and choices. Critical thinking about knowledge production and consumption--what has or has not been included--is one piece of developing this awareness when connected to the personal responsibility one has in roles as both producer and consumer of knowledge. Recognizing the critical interdependence between individual, institutional, structural, and socio-historical domains also facilitates a sense of shared understanding and responsibility.
Gestalt: Gestalt psychology centers around the idea that the unified structure or whole is functionally more than the sum of its parts. Bridges connect isolated areas and lead to the creation of new social systems (cultures, economies, families and other social relationships). The areas connected can become, through interaction and cooperation, more than any one area could be in isolation. For example, Asian American Studies and Psychology have much to offer each other, but few bridges to connect them. Yet bringing together the foundations, knowledge and traditions of both disciplines has been immensely rewarding for me and, I hope, for my students, colleagues, and those who are familiar with my scholarship.
Similarly, connecting theory, scholarship, and practice (e.g. teaching practice and pedagogy, as well as clinical practice, activism, or other service activities) enables each area to benefit from the others so that the sum of what is created within scholarship or offered to students, clients, or disciplines is more than what could be offered if these areas were disconnected and isolated from each other. Much of my teaching, scholarship, and service centers on creating bridges in order to create gestalts: thus, I teach about knowledge production and incorporate community coaction and activism into my curriculum and pedagogy; I write and present about teaching, training, practice, and the process of doing research; and my community coaction commitments actively make connections between the frequently disconnected areas of teaching, scholarship, and service.