Foundational Themes: Building Bridges for Social Justice

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.

Picture of Zakim Bridge 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.