The Social Justice Collaborative Offers Students Lessons in Advocacy and Understanding
When Chris Hoff enrolled in the marriage and family therapy program at the Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology, he envisioned himself in a private practice. "Isn't that what everyone wants?" he recalls thinking.
In his second semester, Hoff's outlook changed when he heard about the Social Justice Collaborative (SJC), a student group that initiates student involvement in activities that promote social responsibility and encourages dialogue and the sharing of experiences related to multicultural issues, social inequalities, and working in diverse, underserved communities.
"Quite honestly, I don't have any personal experience with oppression or social inequity," admits Hoff, who was first introduced to these issues while facilitating substance abuse prevention groups on an Indian reservation in Arizona. "Not everyone is afforded the same opportunities that I had, the same services, or even the same abilities. I realized that I took it for granted," he says.
This experience inspired him to join SJC. "SJC is about continuing your education in areas you simply don't know about, because you can't know," he says. "You can't make assumptions about where your clients are coming from; in fact it's dangerous to do so. It's about being a curious observer and being there to listen to someone's story, because everyone has a story, and we all want to tell it."
Amy Tuttle, assistant professor of psychology, calls this "cultural humility." "Some people call it 'cultural competence,' but that implies an endpoint. If you take a position of humility in not knowing an individual's experience, it opens you up to really understand their story and where they're coming from, as opposed imposing your own ideas and values about who they are."
SJC sponsors an array of events including panel discussions, field trips, and recently, a "mini-immersion" at the MHA (Mental Health America of Los Angeles) Village in Long Beach, California, which offers recovery, peer support, and housing models for people with mental illness, helping them move from isolated, dependent lives to involved, independent lives.
Hoff attended the immersion, and called it an "eye-opening experience." "Their recovery model allows the patient to take more ownership in the process. They determine what recovery looks like for them, and we help them to achieve it."
Due to graduate in the spring of 2011, Hoff's career goals have changed. "Now I'd like to establish a nonprofit community practice," he explains. "The experience has expanded my idea of what a marriage and family therapist can be and do. My responsibility goes beyond the office walls—to advocating for the marginalized and underserved in my community."