E Ho´i I Ka Piko (Returning to the Center): Positioning Local Culture in a Global Community Psychology
Cheryl M. Ramos, PhD
Department of Psychology, University of Hawai´i Hilo
As the demographics of communities become more culturally diverse, understanding the local cultural community context becomes increasingly important to community life and work. This paper presents an undergraduate community psychology course that positions local cultural and community perspectives alongside international and global perspectives. The author describes an undergraduate community psychology course that was developed as a part of a campus-wide initiative that aims to represent the Native Hawaiian culture and worldview across the curriculum. The course was designed around a framework that represented multiple layers or strands of knowledge representing the international, national, and local community worldviews.
This paper describes the development of the local strand of knowledge which included 1) considering the cultural, historical, social, political, and environmental context of the local setting, 2) engaging and collaborating with local scholars and cultural practitioners, and 3) selecting resources representing the local cultural and community context as it relates to community psychology principles and perspectives. Results of students’ course evaluations are provided and confirm the importance of including local cultural and community perspectives in community psychology courses. The application of the course development framework to other community contexts is discussed.
E Ho´i I Ka Piko (Returning to the Center): Positioning Local Culture in a Global Community Psychology
Cheryl M. Ramos, PhD
Department of Psychology, University of Hawai´i Hilo
Download the PDF version of the article, including tables and figures.
Culture has long been a variable of interest in the social and behavioral sciences and has been recognized as an important theme in community psychology since its inception in the 1960’s. However, notions of culture have occupied a somewhat peripheral position in the field. The special issue on culture and community psychology recently published in the American Journal of Community Psychology suggests that community psychology is experiencing a shift in regard to culture, what Kral et al (2011) refer to as a “cultural turn” (p. 49 ), in which culture is being more explicitly incorporated into community psychology theories, research methods, and practice. They call attention to the fact that “culture is local while shaped by both inside and outside, even global forces” (Kral et al, 2011, p.48). Marsella (1998) emphasized the importance of understanding human behavior and experience within cultural context and called for a global-community psychology. O’Donnell (2006) advanced the notion of a global community psychology in his presidential address at the Society for Community Research and Action 10th biennial conference. However, as we expand cultural community psychology at the global level, Trickett (2009) reminds us that “[f]rom an ecological perspective, knowledge about the local community is prerequisite and prelude to decisions about what kinds of actions serve community goals and interests, and what individuals, groups, and social settings are most central to the action goal” (p. 347). Bond & Harrell (2006) suggest that the multi-layered cultural characteristics and diversity dynamics of every community need to be understood and considered within the community’s historical, socio-political context, and local setting. Messinger (2006) emphasized that local context and history are vital to planning and implementing social programs in our communities. Trickett (2011) implores graduate training programs in Community Psychology to “focus on how to develop intervention possibilities and professional qualities that prioritize understanding of the local context and culture as prelude to research programs and intervention possibilities” (p. 67).
The challenge now before us is how to strengthen our courses and training programs with knowledge that draws from the local cultural community context. Courses in community psychology have a broad body of literature to draw from to represent international and global cultural and community perspectives. Published literature in this area reflects foundational principles and practices of the field that can be applied broadly to different cultural and community contexts. We also have a growing body of literature that represents community psychology principles and practices of different international community contexts (Reich et al, 2007). But how do we represent the local culture and community context in our courses and training programs? This paper provides one example. It describes an undergraduate community psychology course that positions the local cultural community perspective as a central theme alongside national and international community psychology perspectives. The local cultural context is described as well as the process by which local scholars and cultural practitioners contributed to the course development process and content.
Culture and community are highly integrated concepts in Hawaii and other culturally diverse communities. Community life is a community of culture – it is not one of community to which culture is simply an add-on consideration. Hawai'i’s social, economic, and political history draws attention to issues of power and social forces that impacted the Native Hawaiian culture, the development of the “local culture” in Hawai´i, the emergence of American culture, and the acculturation/enculturation experiences of the people of Hawai´i. The context within which people of Hawai'i live is multi-cultural, multi-layered, and multi-positioned. People of Hawai'i are influenced by and culturally positioned in reference to the Native Hawaiian host culture. They are influenced by their own ethnic culture to which many retain strong ties. They are influenced by the pan-ethnic “local culture” which has its roots in Hawai'i’s multicultural immigrant sugar plantation history and the cultures of more recent immigrant groups. As citizens of the United States, residents of Hawai'i are influenced by the national American culture. Although the practice of community psychology in Hawai´i is influenced by community psychology values and principles that are relevant to other communities in the United States, the cultural, social, and political history of Hawai´i, as well as its geographic location, present a disconnect from the lived experience in the continental United States. As global citizens, Hawai'i is influenced by the activities occurring in the broader international community. Therefore, Hawai´’s community psychology courses, training programs, and practice must consider and represent Hawai´i’s multi-layered local cultural and community contexts.
An undergraduate community psychology course was developed to position the Native Hawaiian culture and Hawai'i cultural community context as central themes alongside broader community psychology perspectives. The course was designed around a framework that represented multiple layers or strands of knowledge representing inter/national, local, and personal community worldviews. The inter/national strand was represented by readings that described community psychology values, principles, and practices with global application, as well as specific international cultural and community contexts including the United States, Aotearoa/New Zealand, American Samoa, and Nicaragua. The local strand of knowledge, representing the Native Hawaiian culture and Hawai´i community context, was developed by 1) considering the cultural, historical, social, political, and environmental context of the local setting, 2) engaging and collaborating with Native Hawaiian scholars and cultural practitioners, and 3) selecting resources representing the Native Hawai´i culture and local community context as they relate to community psychology principles and perspectives. The course engaged the students and instructor in an exchange of ideas and personal community experiences. Students wrote reflection and application papers related to course topics, and participated in community activities through survey, interview, and service projects.
The course was developed as a part of Ulu?kea, an initiative of the K?puka Native Hawaiian Student Center at the University of Hawai´i Hilo, which aims to represent the Hawaiian worldview across disciplines. As stated in the Center’s website “ Ulu?kea is engaged in educating faculty, not simply as an academic exercise but rather in a long-term commitment toward embracing a Hawaiian worldview and incorporating it as a part of their own. Through this perspective, faculty will develop curriculum, teach, advise, do research, and serve the community. It is important to note that this is not a rejection of Western theory, knowledge, and perspectives. Rather, it is about centering Hawaiian beliefs, ways of knowing, and worldviews and coming to know and understand theory, research, and other knowledge from Hawaiian perspectives and in promotion of the health of the Hawaiian environment” (K?puka Native Hawaiian Student Center).
The initiative had the support of the University administration and was led by Native Hawaiian scholars and cultural practitioners who invited faculty from the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences to participate. The author was invited to be a part of Ulu?kea and chose to redesign her undergraduate community psychology course as a part of the Ulu?kea initiative. The invitation for participation was a critical first step as it gave the author, and other faculty who are not of Native Hawaiian ancestry, the support and permission to represent the Hawaiian worldview in their courses in collaboration with Native Hawaiian scholars and cultural practitioners.
Through interactive hands-on experiences, faculty learned about Native Hawaiian history, values, language, literature, protocol, and practices of hula, lei making, chanting, kite making, awa ceremony, and kihei (cape) printing. Faculty visited and learned the significance of wahipana (sacred sites) in the local community. Native Hawaiian scholars and practitioners shared cultural knowledge and provided one-on-one consultation with faculty. Throughout this process, faculty were reminded that they were the experts in their discipline, and were invited and encouraged to represent the Hawaiian worldview as relevant to their discipline and courses. The staff of K?puka helped the faculty to introduce their Ulu?kea course to students at the beginning of the semester. In this way, the K?puka staff visibly demonstrated their support, as Native Hawaiians, of the faculty’s efforts to represent the Hawaiian worldview in their courses.
Resources included in the course were selected to represent the Native Hawaiian culture and the cultural and community context of Hawai´i in relation to principles, topics, and practices of community psychology. Several parallels were found between values and principles of community psychology and the Native Hawaiian culture and Hawai´i community experience, similar to the parallels between Maori culture and community psychology that Gregory (2001) described. For example, parallel themes between Native Hawaiian culture and community psychology include 1) the integral relationship between person and 'aina (the land), 2) the embeddedness of the individual within the ohana (family) and community, and 3) the importance of kokua (service), laulima (working together), and the reciprocal nature of relationships. Resources also were selected to represent the community context of the pan-ethnic local culture. Some of these resources are presented in Table 1 (tables and figures can be found in the PDF version of the article).
Student Course Evaluations
An important component of Ulu?kea is the ongoing evaluation of courses and the Ulu?kea initiative as a whole. In addition to the standard university course evaluations, the community psychology Ulu?kea courses were evaluated with respect to their Ulu?kea content. Ulu?kea course evaluations were distributed to students at the end of each semester. and addressed the: 1) Native Hawaiian content of the course; 2) representation of Native Hawaiian culture and perspectives in other courses; and 3) familiarity with Native Hawaiian culture. Students also were asked to provide additional comments they had about the course.
A total of 58 students were enrolled in the Ulu?kea community psychology for three semesters. Of these, 49 students completed course evaluations for a 84.5% completion rate. Enrolled students included psychology majors, as well as those majoring in sociology, political science, administration of justice, and communication. Of those who completed evaluations: 18% (9) self-identified as Native Hawaiian and 82% (40) as non-Native Hawaiian; 57% (28) were born in Hawaii; and 57% (28) lived in Hawaii for 16 years or more, 41% (20) for 10 years or less, and 1 student did not indicate length of Hawaii residency.
With respect to the course content, students agreed or strongly agreed that the examples used in the courses were appropriate to illustrate concepts (100%), the content contributed to their understanding of Native Hawaiian culture (94%), and the content clarified differences and similarities between Western and Native Hawaiian values and perspective (88%) They became more aware of Native Hawaiian values and perspectives (92%), wanted to learn more about Native Hawaiian values and perspectives (80%), and the perspectives of other students helped them to appreciate different points of view (82%). Most of the students (66%) were reasonably or somewhat familiar with Native Hawaiian culture before taking the course. Only half of the students(51%) reported being exposed to Native Hawaiian culture and perspectives in one or two Psychology classes, and 23% indicating that none of their Psychology classes exposed them to these areas of study. Most of the students (96%) believed it was very or somewhat important to learn about Native Hawaiian culture and perspectives. Many of the students (43%) would like to see more modules that incorporate Native Hawaiian culture and perspectives in Psychology classes; 49% also agreed as long as the modules do not interfere with the curriculum.
Written comments from students indicate that they enjoyed learning about Hawaiian culture and considered integration of Hawaiian culture into the course as appropriate and important.
As the demographics of communities become more culturally diverse, understanding the local cultural community context becomes increasingly important to community life and work. This paper presented a community psychology course that positioned local community perspectives alongside national and global perspectives. Although the local strand of the course presented content that is most relevant to a specific context, namely Hawai´i, the framework used to guide the development of this course is applicable to community psychology courses in other cultural community contexts. The local strand of knowledge in a different cultural community context could be integrated into a community psychology course and/or training program by 1) considering the cultural, historical, social, political, and environmental context of the local setting, 2) engaging and collaborating with local scholars and cultural practitioners, and 3) selecting resources representing the local cultural and community context as it relates to community psychology principles and perspectives. Course and program evaluations would provide valuable and essential feedback about the relevance of course and program content to the local cultural community context being addressed.
As we reposition culture from the periphery to the center of community psychology theories, research, and practice, we must consider the cultural community context from both local and global perspectives. We should immerse ourselves in the local cultural community context and learn from local cultural scholars, and practices. We would then be better able to incorporate content into our courses and training programs so that our knowledge base, skills training, and interventions are more appropriate and relevant to the local cultural community context. At the same time, we should not become myopic but rather maintain a view of the broader national and international landscape so that we can learn and benefit from the experiences and perspectives of communities in other parts of the globe. To remain relevant and effective as a field, and as individual agents of community change, we should position the local cultural community context as a central theme of our global community psychology.
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Mahalo nui loa (thank you very much) to the following who reviewed and shared their mana´o (thoughts) on an earlier draft of this paper: Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele, Kekuhi Keali´ikanaka´olehaililani, Kalani Makekau-Whittaker, Gail Makuakane-Lundin, Cliff O’Donnell, Taupori Tangaro.
Cheryl M. Ramos, PhD
Cheryl Ramos was born and raised on the Island of Hawai´i. She is an Associate Professor of Psychology (ramos.hawaii.edu). UCB 259 299 W. Kawili St., Hilo, HI 96720-4091