Dean to lead American Psychological Association’s Ethnicity and Race division

Health & Social Sciences Dean Alvin Alvarez, wearing a gray suit, stands in front of plants, trees and flowers.

SF State College of Health & Social Sciences Dean Alvin Alvarez has been elected president of the American Psychological Association’s Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race.

Alvin Alvarez hopes to bring research on effects of racism into communities

Alvin Alvarez has spent more than 20 years as a psychologist looking into the ways people experience racism and how discrimination impacts people of color, particularly Asian Americans. Now he’s looking forward to spending the next few years promoting that kind of research on a national scale.

Alvarez, the dean of San Francisco State University’s College of Health & Social Sciences, has been elected president of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race. The honor is notable for both him and for SF State, Interim Provost Jennifer Summit said.

Alvarez will be president-elect for a year beginning in January, and then will serve as president in 2019. He said he plans to look for ways to use the APA’s professional expertise to serve people who are directly impacted by discrimination.

“The association isn’t just about professional development and professional service. It’s about how you take those skills and serve communities. How do you get that out there?” he said. “And that’s exactly what we do at SF State. A lot of us are training students to get out there and serve their communities. A lot of our research is community-based and is designed to have an impact on the community.”

For years, most research in the field was focused on how people become prejudiced, he said. It’s only in the last 20 years that people have started to scientifically look at the physical and mental health symptoms that stem from experiencing racism and discrimination.

At first, scholars focused on African-Americans, but others have begun examining how discrimination impacts people in other groups, such as women, Asian Americans, people with disabilities or members of the LGBT community. That research has found that discrimination can cause a number of health problems, from anxiety and depression to alcoholism and substance abuse to demonstrated links to suicide.

“We’re finding the same patterns, and it has a significant impact,” Alvarez said. “That’s important because if you don’t prove it empirically, then it’s harder to shape policy and it’s harder to make a case that a problem exists.”

The society was founded in 1986 as a way to integrate ethnic minority psychology into the APA. One of Alvarez’s duties will be to help organize a conference in Austin, Texas, next year for the society’s more than 1,000 members.

“As psychologists and therapists and scholars, as people with a lot of expertise in this, I think we have a lot to offer about how people can deal and cope with issues of race,” he said. “This group has a lot of clinical expertise, and it has a lot of research expertise that can contribute to that dialogue.”