Since the summer of 2018, Western Colorado University’s Behavioral & Social Sciences Department has offered psychology students the opportunity to study for seven weeks in Hawaii. Lindsey Fast, Professor of Psychology, started the program with the hope to bring a complex understanding of diversity to psychology students.
“As psychologists, we should be anxious to expose our students to diverse atmospheres and that is a central focus of this program. Understanding human behavior requires a complex understanding of diversity – there’s no better place to get this than Hawaii,” said Fast.
Looking Through Environmental and Cultural Lenses
Further, Fast said this summer course is designed to explore the heritage of the indigenous peoples of the Hawaiian Islands. Students will examine the conflict between the opposing forces of development of the islands and preservation of the environment, the impact of the Native Hawaiian movement to secede from the United States on the political climate, and the historical roots of religious and cultural beliefs on the island.
“Our major focus will be on how identity is formed in persons and how this plays itself out in the reality of contemporary Hawaii,” said Fast. “The course will offer students a new perspective on a land that they usually understand only through tourist propaganda.”
Understanding the Impact
De Sean Horton, a Western Alumni, went on the trip and said that he gained valuable lessons about the ancestors of the island. Learning about the, according to Horton, “heinous actions” and systemic means of their land being stolen from the islanders helped guide Horton toward his current career path.
“Being a person of color and finding elements within their history that have aligned in some ways with my own, I was really able to empathize and connect with the locals,” said Horton, “This trip helped push my desire to help people which led to me wanting to achieve my master’s degree in social work.”
Along with the basic programming of the course, each student attending is required to complete an internship while in Hawaii. These internships include volunteering at homeless shelters, counseling centers, human resources, and more.
Melina Fotenos, senior Psychology major, said that, while she’s most excited about the scenery and the food, she’s also ready to experience the culture in Hawaii.
“We will all be involved in an internship on the island so I hope to gain experience that will help me in my future,” said Fotenos. “It’s clear that Western values diverse experiences and exposing students to amazing possibilities.”
Studying Abroad Without Leaving the Country
While this class is still technically on U.S. soil, Fast said the students attending will not be learning about American culture, but rather Hawaiian culture – a “multicultural marvel of Pacific Islander beauty.”
“Studying abroad provides a unique experience for all students to grow individually – it pulls the individual out of their comfort zone and places them in unfamiliar circumstances which they are forced to navigate,” said Fast. “This kind of program provides the opportunity of a lifetime for students to form forever friendships, and begin a network across the world.”
Author Credit: Kinlee Whitney
Photo Credit: Andy Fast