In her presidential address, Melba J.T. Vasquez outlined
areas where psychological research has secured justice and
called for continued work to safeguard health-care reform.
BY CHRISTOPHER MUNSEY • Monitor staff
Psychologists’ research has led to remarkable strides forward in social justice, helping us investigate and understand societal challenges, such as human and civil
rights violations, effects of national disasters, terrorism and the
importance of a sustainable environment, said APA President
Melba J. T. Vasquez, PhD.
Among its many accomplishments, psychologists’ research
has led to the development of amicus briefs contributing to a
decision prohibiting life without parole sentences for juveniles
in non-capital criminal cases. It persuaded Florida to strike
down a state law that prohibited gay and lesbian people from
adopting children. It has convinced state and federal courts
that overcrowding in state prisons was undermining inmates’
“These activities directly affect people’s lives,” Vasquez said.
Psychologists are continuing their work to promote social
justice for all Americans by promoting health-care reform
and working to ensure that the greater access to mental health
services gained in recent years is preserved and more, she said.
“We know that not all members of our society have access
to our services … and that leads us to work in the future to
make sure that those aspects of health care do not get undone,”
she said in her presidential address during APA’s 2011 Annual
Convention. “We hope you will help us with those efforts.”
Now, as the nation struggles in tough economic times,
APA must continue its longstanding commitment to social
justice and responsibility, she said. Working for social justice
is, after all, part of APA’s mission and vision, as articulated in
APA’s strategic plan ( www.apa.org/about/governance/good-
governance/ index.aspx). Throughout APA’s history, Vasquez
said, its leaders have stepped forward to address social justice
concerns. Among the most memorable examples of such
leadership was the work by APA President Kenneth B. Clark,
PhD, and Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD, which contributed to the
Today’s need for advocacy on social justice issues runs just as
deep, said Vasquez, pointing out:
• One in five American children lives in poverty and half
a million are homeless, according to a 2008 report from the
Foundation of Child Development.
• The income gap among whites, blacks and Hispanics
significantly widened between 2005 and 2009, according to
a Pew Research Center report. The median wealth of white
households is 20 times that of black households, and 18 times
that of Hispanic households, the report found.
• The United States lacks a national strategy to address how
social and environmental factors result in shorter lifespans
and chronic illness, according to the Institute of Medicine and
National Academies of Science.
“We’re living in a very challenging time,” she said, calling
on psychologists to be “proactive in addressing critical social
problems, especially those to which our research speaks.”
While describing how psychology research can further
social justice, Vasquez conceded that APA’s members don’t
always agree on whether, or how, the association should speak
out on controversial issues. For example, some members
have contested several APA reports, such as the findings
on abortion and mental health, sexual orientation change
efforts and same-sex marriage and parenting, she said.
Heated debates also have broken out over APA’s stance on
the role of psychologists in the interrogation of terrorism
detainees, proposed changes to the APA Model Licensing
Act and the proposed seating of the four ethnic-minority
psychological associations as voting members on the Council
of Representatives, Vasquez said.
And while open, public debate is healthy for APA, Vasquez
appealed for civility, too. “We can all work to turn down the
temperature on outrage, and we can disagree passionately, but
with respect and care,” she said. n