The other day in an advanced theories course for my psychology discipline a student gave an overview of the chapter he had read for class. The chapter is from Evidenced Based Practice in Mental Health and it is about working with diverse individuals, something that is incredibly important and often an area where people do not receive enough training. About half way through his four-page outline my professor stopped the student from reading and asked everyone to discuss what it was like to hear the outline explained. Instead of referencing the great new information or even a strong commitment to cultural diversity, the group was silent. After a moment or two she asked, “Is everyone bored?” The whole group nodded.
What is wrong with this picture? A subject that could be so powerful is boring a group of 20 PhD students who want to give their professional lives to working with people because they genuinely care. Why? Well, one reason is because the way the material was presented in the chapter was so dull it became hard to follow and even harder to track when a single person monotonously related it to the group. Is it then the reader’s fault for not imbuing enough life into the reading? Certainly there could have been more enthusiasm, but the presenter himself was bored and couldn’t muster the energy to present it in a more exciting way.
What’s happening here? If a group of 20 PhD students and a tenured professor all agree they can’t get through the end of a chapter on working with diverse populations then maybe the problem isn’t the group of people, but instead the way the chapter is written. We’ve all struggled through the long, verbose article so dense not a single sentence is comprehendible. However, in this case the long-winded, boring article is part of a power dynamic. The authors are old, white men. The subject matter is anyone of diverse backgrounds who needs mental health care. The authors (intentionally or not) created extreme distance from the subject of diversity, thereby removing the ability to connect or relate to the people the article is supposedly about.
Oppression is a human universal in group dynamics. This has been demonstrated by the likes of the Stanley Milgram prison experiments and even international politics. Every individual has the power to oppress and to submit. In the case of reading this article and similar cases, we need to ask, what is my response to the reading or situation. Who is dominating? Why? And most importantly, do I want to go along with it? We must first label the power dynamic to be able to choose our response.
This applies to all of us when interacting with information like reading a textbook or a newspaper article, watching a video or the news, and listening to music and the radio. We are all responsible for evaluating the power dynamics inherent in these messages and choosing how we respond. Choice is one of the tenets of feminism. We do not have to blindly consume the information in front of us. It is up to us to think critically about what ideas and information we allow to dominate us.
- Written by Alyssa Tedder-King