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APA 2020 Virtual Convention: Focus on the Psychology of Pandemic and Racism

I just attended the APA 2020 Convention, for the third year in a row, this past week; 2018 at San Francisco, California, 2019 at Chicago, Illinois, and this year, not so surprisingly, at home (would have been at Washington, DC). Therefore, I would like to write a short summary of some takeaways from the conference and my own reflections.

Due to the recent pandemic and racialized events, APA focused all the major talks on the psychological aspects of related issues.


Pandemic with a face mask

In the session Does Psychology Hold the Key to COVID-19, Dr. Jay Van Bavel shared the research he and his colleagues did on the psychosocial aspects of the pandemic. He mentioned that people tend to be more optimistic about their future than they should be and that the first step to intervene is to educate people about biases, followed by using science to drive the conversations and decisions. He also recommended that leaders make the decision-making process timely, transparent, and honest.

Racism and Social Justice

Black Lives Matter

In the session The Science of Racism, Drs. Milo Dodson, Calvin Lai, and David Williams discussed both the science and practice of racism as to how pervasive and systemic it is. For instance, Dr. Williams indicated that the wealth or income gap between White and Black Americans had not changed since the Civil Rights Movement. The achievement gap and the health gap such as COVID infection and mortality rates are all manifestations of systemic racism due to racial segregation and inequitable access. Dr. Lai suggested, based on research from him and others, that while eliminating implicit bias is easier said than done, leaders and organizations can implement practices that do not allow people to act on their biases in the first place. Some examples include removing identifying information in job application reviews and keep track of employment data to examine whether diversity and inclusion actually exists across various levels at the organization.

Mental Health Matters Everywhere for Everyone

football player with ball running on green field during daytime

In the session The Perfect Storm for BIPOC: The Emotional Toll of Racism and COVID-19, Vice President of NFL Wellness and Clinical Services Dr. Nyaka NiiLampti and New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis spoke about how both physical and psychological strengths are key to navigating the pandemic and racism in the country and the athletic arena. Although there have some some shifts in collegiate football and NFL that sport psychology services are embedded within teams, stigmas toward psychology and mental health still exist. Dr. NiiLampti stated that there is a tendency for people to associate mental health with mental health, whereas mental health is just like physical health that everyone processes. Demario suggested that, in order to reduce stigmas and improve mental health literacy in communities of color, we need more people of color in the psychology field such that mental health can be taught and normalized across race/ethnicity and generations.

This has been a very fruitful conference experience, although I wish I could have seen some of my friends and colleagues in person. While I believe the conference contains tremendous amounts of useful contents on social justice, the change is not easy, and we should keep having these conversations and put them into actions.

Dr. Alan Chu

Dr. Tsz Lun (Alan) Chu is an Assistant Professor and the Chair of the M.S. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology (SEPP) Program at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. His primary areas of expertise are psychosocial aspects of sport and coaching. Recognized as a Self-Determination Theory International Scholar, Dr. Chu conducts both quantitative and qualitative research focused on the roles of social agents (e.g., coaches, peers, and parents) and basic psychological needs (i.e., autonomy, competence, and relatedness) in motivational processes. Dr. Chu is also a sport psychology consultant who works with athletes and coaches, from high school to professional levels across sports, on mental skills training including goal setting and visualization. To practice what he preaches, Dr. Chu is physically active and highly involved in sports, specializing in table tennis (not the basement “ping pong”!) as a competitive player and an internationally certified coach. He currently serves on the Coaching Committee of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and teaches the coaching certification course.

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