A New Course: Intersectional Critical Liberation Psychology
Invited guest blog by Lisa Rosenthal, PhD; Psychology Department, Pace University
I have been slowly brainstorming about creating a new course in my area of expertise since I started teaching in graduate school. I’ve bounced around between several ideas of what it would focus on, but it has always had a clear social justice framing.
When I started my position at Pace University a few years ago, I learned that it was certainly possible to develop new undergraduate courses and felt encouraged to continue my brainstorming. I also learned about various types of courses Pace undergraduates need to take as part of core requirements and that my institution values faculty teaching, including learning communities.
A learning community at Pace involves two faculty members from different disciplines teaching the same set of students in a given semester about a particular theme or topic. This can be done either as a single integrated, team-taught course, or as two courses paired together. For the social justice-focused psychology course I was imagining, I thought a paired learning community could be perfect and pursued that option.
Many years after these ideas started brewing, I am excited that I am going to teach Intersectional Critical Liberation Psychology for the first time in Fall 2017. I will teach this course in a learning community paired with a section of Gender, Race, and Class (a Women’s and Gender Studies department course) taught by a wonderful colleague, Jason Whitesel, who is a sociologist by training. These courses paired together will hopefully provide a rich experience for students.
Why Intersectional Critical Liberation Psychology?
I believe many students want and need to learn about social justice frameworks for understanding the world. I think this has always been true, and increasingly so given the current political climate both within the U.S. and all around the globe. As an undergraduate psychology student, I learned about social justice frameworks in courses outside of but never within my own major, and I had to figure out on my own how those frameworks could be applied in psychology. I’ve always wanted to offer undergraduate students what I didn’t have.
Across my entire training and academic career, I have steadily increased my engagement with and use of intersectionality as a framework in my research and teaching, as well as in my broader understanding of the world. So I knew I wanted the course I developed to center intersectionality and how it is (and can be) applied within psychology.
I also knew I wanted to highlight traditions within psychology that have always been social justice-focused with roots outside of North America and Europe, which are very often omitted from standard undergraduate (as well as graduate) training in the field. This led me to incorporating critical psychology and liberation psychology into the framing of the course. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that intersectional, critical, and liberation perspectives were intricately linked and complemented each other in an ideal way for what I wanted to accomplish in this course. And, voila- Intersectional Critical Liberation Psychology it would be!
Developing the Course
After years of brainstorming, I had to put concrete ideas down on paper to propose the new course, which is always challenging! I worked on drafting a syllabus to propose, and found out in the middle of that process that my amazing friend and collaborator Nicole Overstreet was simultaneously developing an Intersectional Psychology graduate course (great minds think alike!?). Nicole shared her syllabus with me, and in particular her reading list helped me tremendously to finish up the draft of my syllabus.
I successfully proposed the course, and it was approved. But, I am still in the process of considering a range of options for how to teach it. I want to make sure students can understand the material and walk away with frameworks they know how to apply to the rest of their learning in psychology as well as other fields. I want student to learn things that they will apply to all realms of their lives and careers. Ultimately, I hope the course can help students to understand the world more clearly, find allies in social justice struggles, and engage in trying to make the world a better place.
I have been reading a lot to help me make various decisions about the course, including regarding readings, assignments, activities, etc. One of the first things I read was Kim Case’s book Intersectional Pedagogy: Complicating Social Justice and Identity (HUGE thank you to Kim and the other contributors for doing the work of putting this book together, it’s an incredibly helpful resource!!). I’ve also read Adrianne Aron and Shawn Corne’s edited compilation of translations of Ignacio Martín Baró’s work, Writings for a Liberation Psychology. I’m currently in the middle of Mary Watkins and Helene Shulman’s book Toward Psychologies of Liberation. And, next in the queue is Dennis Fox, Isaac Prilleltensky, and Stephanie Austin’s edited book Critical Psychology: An Introduction, Second Edition. I am thoroughly enjoying reading about all of these perspectives in psychology that I was not introduced to as a student!
I have a lot more work to do before I am ready to start teaching this course in Fall 2017. I am both nervous and excited to continue this journey, and I look forward to sharing updates about how it all goes!