Cummings Center provides historical analysis for APA apology


The American Psychological Association (APA), the largest scientific and professional organization dedicated to psychology in the U.S., recognized the need to mobilize psychology to address the significant social issues of the times, such as glaring racial inequities in health care and the increasing momentum around racial justice. But before the APA could reach out to create change in society, they realized they must first understand and acknowledge psychology’s own role in creating, sustaining, and failing to challenge systemic racism. Such an acknowledgement required understanding how the organization had historically harmed people of color and perpetuated systemic racism in society.

To understand this history, APA turned to the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, known nationally as a central resource for research and documentation on psychology’s history. In May, the Center’s Executive Director Dr. Cathy Faye, along with Assistant Director Dr. Jennifer Bazar, and Archives Assistant Tony Pankuch, gathered a team of psychologists around the country to delve into this history of harm, exploring everything from psychology’s involvement in the eugenics movement of the early 1900s to its failure to represent the concerns of people of color during the Civil Rights Movement.   

The resulting historical review was then used to inform a public apology, issued by the APA in October, 2021. In the resolution, the APA stated the organization “failed in its role leading the discipline of psychology, was complicit in contributing to systemic inequities, and hurt many through racism, racial discrimination, and denigration of people of color, thereby falling short on its mission to benefit society and improve lives."

“This really is a historic moment for the field of psychology, for psychologists of color, and for communities of color who are impacted by the work of psychology,” said Faye. “Psychological science and practice have often been used to support harmful beliefs about race and racial difference. We hope that this review helps us understand the ways in which psychology can and does perpetuate such harm. And we hope that it helps create a better future.”

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