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Professor Honored For International Humanitarian Work

Assoc. News Editor

Published: Monday, February 4, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 01:02

Professor Honored For International Humanitarian Work

Alex Gaynor // Heights Editor

Professor Brinton Lykes, chair of the department of Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology at the Lynch School of Education and the associate director of the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, was recently awarded the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2013 International Humanitarian Award. The APA Committee on International Relationship Psychology (CIRP) recognized Lykes for her sustained and enduring humanitarian services and activism with underserved populations.

As a community-cultural psychologist, Lykes has focused her efforts in documenting and responding to human rights abuse and the effects of state-sponsored violence. She has worked across the country—in Boston working with Latino middle school youth, in New Orleans partnering with African-American and Latina community-based health promoters to develop new models of cross-community leadership post-Hurricane Katrina, and in Guatemala assisting Mayan women survivors of army conflict and sexual violence.

Lykes grew up in New Orleans during the Civil Rights and desegregation movement. Her experiences in high school affected her perspective on social injustice and the need for social change.

“I saw firsthand the ways in which exclusion and prejudice affected people’s everyday life,” Lykes said. “I saw the lack of tolerance that sometimes characterizes all of us as human beings.”

As a college student, Lykes traveled to Paris, France, where she witnessed student protests for equitable education and workers’ protests for fair pay. For the first time, Lykes was exposed to community organizing and protest. After receiving her undergraduate degree, Lykes attended the Harvard Divinity School, studying Liberation and Theology. She became more heavily involved in Latin-American issues and protests against America’s involvement in the wars of El Salvador and Guatemala during her time at Harvard Divinity School. With her studies, Lykes obtained a Ph.D. at the interface of psychology and sociology, combining her interests in activism with academic work.

“In many ways, I think of my involvement as continuous with the ways in which I was raised and the different transformations I had in my understanding,” Lykes said. “My parents raised me with a strong sense of responsibility for taking care of and being responsive to others. I think what I discovered in France is that is a really important motivation—but it’s charity rather than change. Over the years I’ve come to understand that I myself as a woman have experienced marginalization and exclusion, that I myself am diminished by living in a country and in a community where all people are not embraced as equals, and that I lose out when I don’t have an opportunity to meet people as peers.”

Earlier this academic year, Lykes was also selected for the prestigious Ignacio Martin-Baro Lifetime Peace Practitioner Award from the APA’s Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence.

“I am deeply honored to accept these awards on the behalf of all the people I have worked with over the years,” Lykes said. “I think it is a way of recognizing the critical importance that we—people living in the United States—continue to engage in the global community in which we live, that we build relationships of solidarity and that we also hold ourselves accountable for some of the horrific things our country has done.”

Lykes accepts the APA’s 2013 International Humanitarian Award with some ambivalence, however.

“The APA, unfortunately, has also engaged in some of the practices we, who are committed to human rights, find deeply problematic,” Lykes said. “It has a history, unfortunately, of psychologists who have collaborated in Guantanamo and who have assisted in certifying the health of people who are being tortured … It is ironic to be given an award by an association who has done some wonderful things but who has also failed in its commitments to human rights and international justice in some ways. I hope that, by recognizing someone who is one of their friends, but also one of their critics, it is acknowledgement that people within the association are thinking more critically about these issues.”

Lykes will be honored for both of these awards this coming summer in Honolulu, Hawaii. The awards will be formally presented at the APA/APF Award Ceremony during the annual APA convention.

When asked about her time teaching at Boston College, Lykes paraphrased a passage by Martin Luther King Jr. that she had recently read with her Global Service and Justice class.

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