Leighna Harrison M.S.

APAGS Member-at-Large Diversity Focus


As your APAGS Diversity Focus Member-at-Large, I will apply my efforts to the areas of:

OUTREACH, to increase representation of and participation from diverse groups of graduate students in APAGS

DIALOGUE, to discuss and partner with existing diversity-focused efforts within APAGS, and more broadly in APA, thus increasing the strength of our own efforts

PROGRAMMING, informed by Outreach and Dialogue initiatives, in order to meet the needs of diverse graduate students


I'm not sure whether others have experienced this, but the functioning of governing bodies is often somewhat confusing to me. I have slowly become familiar with APAGS and APA over the years, but sometimes it feels like I'm still learning about new projects and programs that I wish I had known about earlier on in my graduate school career. When I saw this video on internship interview tips, I thought that it would be great to have a similar interactive infographic about the workings of APAGS for first year students (or any students who remain confused or need reminding, like myself!) to receive upon entering their graduate programs. As your APAGS Diversity Focus Member-at-Large, I will work to create a captivating video on the structure of APAGS to be made available to graduate students in order to clarify the functioning of APAGS within APA, promote the benefits of becoming an APAGS member, and highlight the opportunities that APAGS makes available to graduate students. This would be a key way to increase our outreach and include students of all backgrounds in the continued development and improvement of our profession.

As your Diversity Focus Member-at-Large, I plan to increase intradisciplinary dialogue across initiatives and interest groups within APAGS and APA. More specifically, I would like to align my workings in APAGS with those of the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) as diversity and social justice issues share many common goals.

On the current APAGS website, under 'What is APAGS Doing for You?', there is important information on Graduate Student Funding, the Internship Crisis, and LGBT Students. As your Diversity Focus Member-at-Large, I will work to include additional information on other issues of diversity -- ethnic and racial minorities, immigrant graduate students, international graduate students, and graduate students with disabilities -- and how I am working to increase programming for these and other groups. In this way, you will know what our team is working on and can alert us to blind spots in our programming endeavors. 

Walking tour of Old Havana during APA Delegation to Cuba; November 2013.

Walking tour of Old Havana during APA Delegation to Cuba; November 2013.


Why Diversity?

As a biracial child attending a predominantly white parochial school, I first understood diversity through my early experiences. Requests by my peers to touch my hair and often being asked 'what are you?' or whether I had been adopted reminded me of the differences between my classmates and myself. Growing up on two different sides of town, I experienced distinctive customs, styles of communication, and cultures. I enjoyed having 'both', yet questioned the disparities that existed between neighborhoods for no apparent reason except that one was black and one was white. Although my mother was the granddaughter of Irish immigrants, the struggle of working class white people did not seem quite as punishing as the realities black people faced. At school, I felt alone in my consciousness of the experiences of black people -- as if i were a perpetual outsider in some fundamental ways. During high school, I became part of a unique group of friends. Nicknamed the 'United Nations', we were mixed-race or first generation children of immigrants. The variety of our experiences and the different languages we spoke inspired me to know the world beyond my two neighborhoods.

The disparities I experienced between white and black communities in Northern California were nothing compared to the poverty and prejudice I encountered during a college study abroad in Brazil. The sense of injustice I felt toward a system that permitted my host family’s unfair treatment of their domestic worker, Rosie, amplified the inequalities I took issue with in my home community. I was frustrated and saddened by the limited options available to her and felt a strong desire to help. With Rosie's permission, I created a documentary film about her life and presented it for my Senior Project in fulfillment of my Bachelor's Degree in UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures. An excerpt from the documentary can be read here. This experience influenced my career decisions toward an intersection of these issues – clinical psychology and social justice.

My desire for social justice and wish to aid individuals in achieving emotional well-being has affected my choice of clinical training experiences – from facilitating arts-based projects with female survivors of human trafficking as an undergraduate to treating migrant farm workers on a mobile health unit as a doctoral student. While I did not work with underserved populations during practicum training in Argentina, I learned about the practice of psychotherapy in a developing nation. Working with individuals with an entirely different cultural worldview broadened my clinical perspectives, from case conceptualization to clinical interactions.

My experiences have served me to begin translating knowledge gained in the 'field' to larger governing initiatives. As I look to apply what I've learned toward the goal of effecting more systemic level change, I aim to be a strong voice for the needs of diverse students in APA's governing bodies.