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Community Research and Action Program Details

CRA Students and Faculty Super Happy

Pictured clockwise left to right: Leah Roberts, Doug Perkins, Marianne Zape, Tessa Eidelman, Misha Inniss-Thompson, Anjali Forber-Pratt, Dominique Lyew, and Kolton Forber-Pratt

Program Mission

We ground the mission of Human and Organizational Development (HOD) and Community Research and Action (CRA) on a core belief in human development as the freedom to create and choose among real opportunities for realizing human potential. We also believe that human development is achieved only through the simultaneous and balanced satisfaction of personal, interpersonal, and collective needs within the context of social justice. Based on these beliefs, HOD and CRA aim to prepare students for the promotion of human, organizational, and community development through rigorous, critical, experiential, ecological, systemic, and multidisciplinary modes of learning. Instead of concentrating only on single units of analysis, we focus especially on the connections among them.

We work to emphasize qualitative and quantitative research methods, interpersonal skills, organizational and small group dynamics, community interventions, applied participatory research, leadership development, consultation, and social policy formation. In keeping with Peabody College's mission to provide research and education that make a difference in the lives of children, youth, and adults in the community, we prepare students to become agents of human and organizational development at the local, national, and international levels.

CRA is grounded in a contextual and interdependent understanding of life-long learning, interpersonal and social efficacy, and developmental change in the community. We sharpen the qualitative and quantitative analytical skills required for the integration of knowledge from diverse disciplines. We blend intellectual rigor with practical and emotional intelligence for the promotion of effective and ethical interventions. Students practice what they learn through classroom simulation, internships, practica, and, especially, field research. We engage in self-reflection, bring personal experience to the classroom, and foster individual and public virtue in the process. Our students learn to discover and use empirical evidence to support their arguments, interventions, and integrative thought processes.

We understand that the balance among values, needs, and social policies is a changing one requiring careful choice of prescriptions for interventions. We recognize that families, groups, organizations, communities, and nations emphasize certain values and needs more than others. We seek to help balance self-determination with respect for diversity and social justice, and individualism with cohesion and solidarity. In our teaching, research, and action, we strive to reinforce equilibrium wherever it is found and to detect lack of equilibrium and teach students to think and act critically and creatively in ways that address the desired balance.

Conceptual Orientation

The central concern of the CRA program is the relationship between social systems and individual well being in the community context. Four themes are implicit in this definition:

1. The normative rationale for the program is the social integration function of community organizations and of community itself for addressing social problems at multiple levels.

2. The program's basic commitment is to action research that seeks to develop community and transform its institutions for the promotion of lifelong human development and health (both physical and mental), within the context of social justice.

3. The overarching conceptual framework throughout CRA is ecological-systems theory, which suggests a problem orientation that can (and should) traverse multiple disciplines (e.g., anthropology, economics, education, history, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, sociology). See our extensive list of core and affiliated faculty.

4. Our primary focus is to understand both the ethics and processes of community change and to provide the knowledge base and necessary quantitative and qualitative tools to inform and evaluate community action through the use of applied social research methods. The focus on change is on the relationships between social systems functioning and individual behavior in the community context. We think of this relationship as a transaction that extends through time at the interface among multiple levels of a social-ecological system.

Community Psychology and Community Development as Core

The community context is not only social, but also political, economic, and physical. Thus the program focuses primarily on community psychology and community development as overlapping areas of academic inquiry and professional practice. From an ecological or systems theory perspective, community psychology activities include efforts to improve a community's psycho-social system (e.g., human services, school-based programs, neighborhood cohesion), and its political system (community organizing, citizen participation and empowerment). Community development includes those same goals, but also aims to improve the community as an economic system (e.g., consumer affairs, new or expanded business and job opportunities) and a physical environment (better housing, city services, recreational facilities, urban planning).

Community psychology and community development share values of cultural diversity, social inclusion, cohesion, participation, empowerment, equality, and justice. They also share a multi-level approach to analysis and intervention. Community psychology includes individual-level concerns with psychological aspects of change and community-based opportunities for lifespan development and learning. Both community psychology and community development focus on organization-level change through program planning and evaluation and the creation of alternative institutions (schools, voluntary associations, and other mediating structures or settings), which socialize members as responsible citizens. Finally, they share a focus on community and societal-level change through policy analysis and advocacy and the development of caring and competent learning communities.

Two important resources developed by CRA faculty members exemplify the opportunities for field-based action research in community psychology and community development available to CRA students and students throughout the department and across the university. First, the Community Engagement comprises groups of faculty and students organized into the following research groups: Healthy Communities; Schools and Community; Organizational Change; Urban Neighborhoods; International Communities; and Religion, Spirituality, and Community.

Second, related to some of the Center's work, is the Fieldschool in Intercultural Education, which supports the research of teams of faculty and students in Nashville and other locations.

Trends

In recent years, community psychologists have been collaborating with researchers and practitioners, and even finding research and academic jobs in fields such as public health, education, human development, community development, environment and behavior, other branches of applied psychology, and other social sciences. This trend is just beginning to be reflected in new graduate programs oriented toward community psychology, but based in interdisciplinary departments outside of psychology. Through core curriculum readings and extensive minor and elective options, the program in CRA aims to include all the above fields, thus making it one of the most interdisciplinary of community psychology programs.

CRA is also distinctive regarding graduate training in community development. There are traditional community development graduate programs that are oriented to training professionals for work in agricultural extension. There are also some architecture and urban planning programs with a community development emphasis. A few have a psychologist or two on faculty. This is the first community development program, however, with an equal emphasis on community psychology. It is also one of the few (particularly at the doctoral-level) with an urban community development economics focus. Community development activities are initiated by government agencies, nonprofit organizations, resident groups, and public/private partnerships. Academic training in community development provides the knowledge and skills to analyze community problems, access and interpret relevant, valid, and reliable social research, and devise, organize, implement, and evaluate effective solutions. CRA focuses on the urban/suburban psychosocial, political, and physical environments, although several faculty members are also interested in rural communities. Economic and international development may be taken as elective courses.