Community Psychology

Instructor: Prof. Lynne Bond
Psychology 295, Fall 2001 Office: 334 John Dewey Hall
Tues & Thurs 11 12:15 Office hours: Tues. 1:30 2:30; Wed. 11 12 or by appointment
Phone: 656 1341 || Email:

What is Community Psychology?

Community psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with person environment interactions and the ways society affects individual and community functioning. Community psychology focuses on social issues, social institutions, and other settings that influence individuals, groups, and organizations. Community psychology as a science seeks to understand relationships between environmental conditions and the development of health and well being of all members of a community. The practice of community psychology is directed towards the design and evaluation of ways to facilitate psychological competence and empowerment, prevent disorder, and promote constructive social change. The goal is to optimize the wellbeing of individuals and communities with innovative and alternative interventions designed in collaboration with affected community members and with other related disciplines inside and outside of psychology.

The Society for Community Research & Action (SCRA; Division 27 of the American Psychological Assoc.): an international organization devoted to advancing theory, research, and social action. Its members are committed to promoting health and empowerment and to preventing problems in communities, groups, and individuals. Four broad principles guide SCRA:

  1. Community research and action requires explicit attention to and respect for diversity among peoples and settings;
  2. Human competencies and problems are best understood by viewing people within their social, cultural, economic, geographic, and historical contexts;
  3. Community research and action is an active collaboration among researchers, practitioners, and community members that uses multiple methodologies;
  4. Change strategies are needed at multiple levels in order to foster settings that promote competence and well being.

SCRA Goals:

  1. To promote the use of social and behavioral science to enhance the well being of people and their communities and to prevent harmful outcomes;
  2. To promote theory development and research that increases our understanding of human behavior in context;
  3. To encourage the exchange of knowledge and skills in community research and action among those in academic and applied settings;
  4. To engage in action, research, and practice committed to liberating oppressed peoples and respecting all cultures;
  5. To promote the development of careers in community research and action in both academic and applied settings.

Course Description

This course will provide an introduction to the field of community psychology. We will review the background and history of the field; and we will examine and apply key concepts, theories, and research methodologies of the discipline. Class members will develop their understanding of these issues through: (a) reading primary and secondary sources, (b) participating in class discussions, (c) attending presentations of community residents, specialists, and leaders, and (d) participating approximately two hours per week as community psychologists in a local field setting. It is anticipated that class members will:

  • develop an understanding of the values, goals, and intervention and research methods of community psychologists, including the ways in which these are distinguished from those of related disciplines such as community mental health, clinical, developmental, and social psychology;
  • achieve an understanding of the effects of societal, cultural, and environmental influences on psychological and community well being;
  • examine multiple levels of contexts in which people grow and develop, as well as strategies for fostering contexts that promote healthy development;
  • consider ways to assess and be responsive to the needs of people with diverse socio cultural, educational, and ethnic backgrounds, and varying abilities, goals, and experiences;
  • be able to apply theory, concepts and research strategies to a problem in the local community;
  • develop skills in collaborating with community residents, community organizations, and community specialists in identifying, designing, and implementing, and interpreting community based research;
  • become knowledgeable of the profession of community psychology.

Course Expectations

A. Class Participation and Contributions This seminar course will focus on discussion of assigned readings, activities, community field work, and other relevant material that class members bring forth for consideration. Your active and thoughtful participation is critical to shaping the quality and quantity of your own learning experiences as well as those of others in the seminar. Therefore, you are expected to attend every class and to be an active participant in both guiding and engaging in the discussion (if you must miss a class, please inform me beforehand). Before coming to class, be certain to identify those issues that you feel are most important and relevant for discussion, debate, questioning, and integration. In addition, please take responsibility for creating a constructive dialogue in class by responding to, building on, and helping to develop the ideas of others as well as your own ideas. This means that, when relevant, you:

  • ask for clarification and elaboration by others (e.g., "Can you say more about that?" "Would you give some examples of what you mean?" "How are you using the term 'x' when you say that?" "I don't think I fully understand; do you mean to say ..." "How does your perspective relate to Student X's comment [or the community members' reactions, or the article we read]?")
  • Ask good questions of one another that will foster constructive and collaborative thinking, critical reflection, and problem solving (e.g., "Why do you think that there's so much [or so little] consensus among us on this?" "How does your personal experience [or theory x] fit with what the readings were saying?" "Could we build on one another's perspectives to try to make sense of this question?")

Your class participation and contributions will comprise 20% of your overall course grade.

B. Written Reflection and Discussion Questions
Each week, you will be asked to write approximately 2 (single spaced) pages that include analytical/critical reflection and discussion questions

Analytical/critical reflection
In some instances, I will ask you to focus your paper upon a specific assignment or activity. Otherwise, these brief papers are to focus specifically upon the week's reading assignment and its relation to our community field work, other readings, and personal experience and observations of yours. Your goal is not to summarize the readings. Rather, you should analyze and critically reflect upon a couple significant issues raised in the readings. To reiterate, ideally you will critically reflect upon those readings by linking them with other material we have covered in our course (readings, discussion), community field work you have done, and other aspects of your experience and knowledge (e.g., personal history, issues observed in the media, other courses, etc.). We will discuss and practice "reflection" activities in class at the beginning of the semester to help you feel more comfortable and prepared for these reflection papers.

Discussion questions
Following the analytical/critical reflection, write several (2-3) discussion questions that you would like us to address in class. Craft these questions so that they engage us to discuss, for example, key themes, questions, similarities and/or disagreements within and across the readings with a particular effort to relate these to your community field experiences both community experiences associated with the course and those you may have had apart from this course. Construct your questions in a way that will help all of us in the class to clarify and develop our thinking. That is, the discussion questions should also engage critical/analytic reflection. You might pose the questions in a manner that helps to integrate the readings with your community work in a meaningful way. In addition, you might try to identify relationships between some aspect(s) of the reading and current or historical events, life experiences, diverse groups of peoples, previous class discussions, other readings (e.g., assigned this week or for a previous class). For each question, begin your own discussion of different ways of looking at this issue, perhaps even arguing with yourself or offering different ways of approaching and/or thinking about the matter at hand. Be clear why this question or issue is interesting and complex!

Your Reflection/Discussion Question Papers will be evaluated weekly. Together, they will comprise 30% of your overall course grade.

C. Community Based Field Work
We will work as a group to complete a community based field work project in collaboration with Burlington's Community & Economic Development Office (CEDO) and residents of Burlington. We will all collaborate with community stakeholders on one or more aspects of the project to define the goals, methods, data gathering, analyses, and interpretation, and to disseminate our findings to relevant audiences. A portion of our class time will be devoted to various phases of this work, but much will take place out of class time (approximately 2-3 hours a week of field work, once the project is in full swing). This project will serve as a field site in which to cultivate as well as apply skills and knowledge that we are working to develop within the course. We will be meeting with CEDO staff and community residents throughout the semester to plan and implement this project. Your community based field work will comprise 20% of your overall course grade.

D. Design a Community Based Intervention
As your take home final exam, you will be asked to work individually or in pairs to design a community based intervention that would effectively address an existing need in the local community that was identified by residents during your community field work. You'll be expected to clearly define the need, the population to be served, the intervention design, and the goals and desired outcomes. Be certain that you provide a strong rationale for each aspect of your proposal. The purpose of this activity is to apply the theory, research, and methods we have examined to a real world need. As we progress through the semester, we will work together to develop more explicit guidelines for this project. Your take home final will comprise 30% of your overall course grade.

E. Course Evaluation
Both in the middle and at the end of the semester, I will ask you to provide me with written feedback on your own course related progress and performance to date. I will also ask you to evaluate the strengths of the course and ways in which it could be improved (we'll use the mid semester feedback to try to make mid semester improvements!). At both the middle and end of the semester, I will also provide you with a written narrative regarding my sense of your progress and performance in the course.

At the end of the semester you will receive a course grade that will be determined in the following way:

  • Class participation & contributions: 20%
  • Weekly writing assignments: 30%
  • Take home final designing a community intervention: 30%
  • Community based field work: 20%

Dalton, J. H., Elias, M. J., & Wandersman, A. (2001). Community Psychology: Linking individuals and communities. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Assignments are noted under the dates on which they are due. When two dates are listed, readings should be done by the first date.

  • August 28: What is Community Psychology?
    Review of the course and syllabus Introduction to local community priorities and our service learning project Introduction to community based action research Introduce yourself and your own community affiliations
  • August 30: Introducing Community Psychology
    Dalton et al., Chapters 1 (pp. 1 25)
    Julian, D. (1997). Advancing the goals of the Society for Community Research and Action: A definition of applied community psychology [handout]
  • September 4: Introducing Community Psychology (cont.)
    Dalton et al., Chapters 2 (pp. 26 56)
    Discussion and selection of community based action service learning project Service learning project:
    GUEST: Ms. Cara Gleason, Burlington Economic and Community Development Office: pressing issues in Burlington's neighborhoods & service learning project possibilities
  • September 6: The Aims of Community Research & The Methods of Community Research
    Dalton et al., Chapter 3, The Aims of Community Research
    Service learning project: GUEST: Ms. Colleen Purcell, Americorps*VISTA for Burlington (service learning project) to discuss Burlington's resident based Public Safety Project
  • September 11: The Aims of Community Research & The Methods of Community Research (cont)
    Dalton et al., Chapter 4, The Methods of Community Research
    Service learning project: Review ongoing community based neighborhood association research in Burlington [GUEST: Amy Carmola, community researcher, UVM/Burlington COPC]
  • September 13: Getting to Know the Burlington Community
    Complete walking tour of Burlington's Old North End Service learning project: Meet with community residents to discuss factors influencing neighborhood quality of life and the King Street area of Burlington
  • September 18: Communities in Ecological Context
    Dalton et al., Chapter 5, Understanding Ecology
  • September 20: Communities in Ecological Context (cont.)
    Service learning project: Analyze factors at different ecological levels that may contribute to neighborhood quality of life, as well as strategies at different levels that may be used to improve neighborhood quality of life Participatory Action Research
  • September 25 & 27: Understanding Sense of Community
    Dalton et al., Chapter 7
    Service learning project: Complete Sense of Community scales; how do these instruments relate to concerns raised by community leaders and neighborhood residents in Burlington?
    Service learning project: drawing from readings and sample instruments, draft questions for gathering residents' beliefs about neighborhood quality of life and affects of Block Associations
  • October 2 & 4: Citizen Participation and Empowerment
    Dalton et al., Chapter 12
    Service learning project: Spradley (1979). The ethnographic interview (Asking descriptive questions, pp. 78 91). NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Analyze affects of different research strategies upon citizen empowerment
    Service learning project: Conduct walking tour and environmental/architectural/interactionaI analysis of King St. area Service learning project: Amy Carmola, COPC researcher: strategies for effective neighborhood canvassing & interviewing
    Service learning project: GUESTS: Colleen Purcell (A*VISTA) and community stakeholders to refine data gathering instrument
  • October 9 & 11: Organizing for Community and Social Change
    Dalton et al., Chapter 13
    Service learning project: analysis of strategies for community change in context of city government and residents' concerns with community organizing and neighborhood quality of life
    Service learning project: practice interviewing & canvassing strategies with three community members
    Service learning project: GUEST Aaron Masi, Youth Coordinator at the King Street Youth Center to discuss (a) careers in community organizing; and (b) strategies for supporting youth development at the King Street Youth Center
  • October 16 & 18: Program Evaluation and Program Development
    Dalton et al., Chapter 14 Film: "Holding Ground" (community organizing and grassroots action in Boston)
    Service learning project: Begin community canvassing!!
  • October 23 & 25: Understanding Human Diversity
    Dalton et al., Chapter 6
    Service learning project: review Burlington Participation & Diversity Study (racially and ethnically diverse residents speak about their civic engagement and strategies for increasing engagement)
    Service learning project: continue community canvassing
    Service learning project: group synthesis of what we are learning to date from process and content of community interviews; revisiting our project plan
  • October 30 & November 1: Coping and Social Support
    Dalton et al., Chapter 8
    Service learning project: GUEST, Gall Shampnois, UVM City Relations to discuss UVM Community programs for promoting effective relations and student civic engagement
  • November 6 & 8: Prevention and Promotion: Key Concepts
    Dalton et al., Chapter 9
    ATTEND/PARTICIPATE IN: Neighborhood Improvement Night in your own Neighborhood Planning Assembly; complete analysis of factors enhancing and impeding participation in community meetings
    Service learning project: complete neighborhood canvassing Service learning project: begin class analysis of interview data
  • November 13 & 15: Prevention and Promotion: Current and Future Applications
    Dalton et al., Chapter 10
    Service learning project: continue analysis of interview data Service learning project: analyze implications of neighborhood data for prevention & promotion programming
  • November 20 & 27: Prevention and Promotion: Implementing Programs
    Dalton et al., Chapter 11
    Service learning project: complete analyses of neighborhood data Service learning project: GUEST Colleen Purcell, A*VISTA and neighborhood members join class for interpreting neighborhood data; implications of data for community action; and planning dissemination
  • November 29: Looking Back, Looking Ahead
    Dalton et al., Chapter 15
    Service learning project: sharing neighborhood data with residents and supporting relevant community action
  • December 4: Wrapping Up
    Service learning project: create a brochure for residents that summarizes neighborhood data
    Service learning project: what have we learned about our own and others civic engagement