Welcome to our guest blog page where passion and inspiration coincide. Here Child Life Specialists and Students have the opportunity to share their love for writing with their peers.
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Facing the Inequalities in the Journey
In my previous blog I welcomed reflection on the messiness, beauty, and overall differences found in each child life specialist’s and child life student’s journey to certification. But in that writing I found myself not only considering, but fully tuning into the implicit biases I held as a white female in the field. My journey looks vastly different from the 9% of BIPOC professionals in child life (ACLP, 2018). My journey is only beginning and even in these early stages I have privilege. This has notoriously been a difficult topic for discussion in society, but I’m here to full on acknowledge it and take a moment to sit with the discomfort so often accompanying it. I have the privilege of knowing I will be sitting next to classmates who look like me, financial privilege making the cost of relocating for internship less daunting, and I know I will overall face far fewer barriers because of my white privilege on my path to be a child life specialist. I still believe beauty can be found in our different journeys, but in the following piece I invite you to instead consider the ugly truth our peers face in this journey.
Going into the field knowing how vital it is to diversify our profession, I find myself wary of developing a white savior complex. My professional goals include conducting research examining how child life practices can be tailored towards marginalized BIPOC children and speaking at HBCUs about child life. I am a self-proclaimed “research nerd” and believe in the power of it to further develop a rapidly evolving field. I see these gaps in our scientific knowledge of child life and I want to close them. I want to answer questions that will allow us to better serve communities beyond the white child (upon which many of our field’s favorite developmental theorist based their frameworks upon, but such is a discussion for another day). When thinking about my future career dreams, I’ve recently found myself wondering if my work is for a self-serving purpose. Am I becoming the white savior troupe I so often scoff at? Considering this fact may be uncomfortable for me, but the least we can do as a white community is sit with and lean into the discomfort. In this discomfort there can be change. In this discomfort I hope to find new questions I can hopefully bring some clarity to by expanding child life research.
In my own reflection process, I have considered how white child life specialists could take current conversation surrounding racism and leave with the mindset that we must “save” BIPOC pediatric patients from injustices with child life services and only we can do so. I myself am wary and cognizant that this may be a framework I could unwillingly fall into when I take on a clinical role. To prevent this, I am constantly reminding myself that not only do all children have the right to equal and fair child life services, but that children should have the privilege of being served by healthcare professionals that look like them as such can provide a degree of comfort in an often uncomfortable medical environment. But black child life specialists also have the right to feel comfortable and accepted while working in the field. Black lives matter and our practices are not serving the black community as they should, especially concerning black child life professionals. In a recent webinar published by the ACLP, Divna Wheelright shared answers from a survey of BIPOC child life professionals asking if they feel they belong in our community (2020). The general answer? They do not. Our own colleagues do not feel accepted in a profession constantly preaching acceptance and equality. How can white child life specialists advocate for the comfort of our own patients when our black colleagues may not feel completely comfortable simply working in the field? I hope I can one-day work towards a world free of such disservices through research, through introducing child life to students interested in healthcare who understand the importance of showing patients medical professionals who look like them, something they themselves may not have benefitted from growing up.
Scientific literature concerning many different healthcare topics has overlooked black populations and I found a passion for closing this gap in research when volunteering in the OCD and Anxiety Lab at UNC Chapel Hill throughout my undergraduate career. While not necessarily child life related, I found my passion for diversifying scientific knowledge here. I primarily worked on data collection for an ongoing study working to understand the connection between racial identity and obsessive compulsive symptomologies in black young adults. I was tasked with conducting a literature review in order to receive course credit for my work in the lab. I was shocked and appalled to see there was no previous research looking for reasons and explanations of black experience of obsessive compulsive (OC) symptoms. I wondered why there was no literature looking into the reasons for such and using findings to drive treatment development? Why hadn’t the scientific community even looked at questions so desperately in need of answers? Looking back now I realize it is a privilege to be shocked at the gaps in the literature concerning BIPOC communities. And now I hope to use my identified privilege to close these gaps as I begin my path to conducting child life research. I hope to do so not as anyone’s savior, let alone a white savior, but as a member of the scientific community seeking answers to questions we should have had the decency to answer long ago.
We as a white community may shy away from this fact, but the journey to child life is not conducive to members of all types of races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and so forth. Not everyone cannot afford to pick up and move to a new area to pursue an unpaid internship. Not everyone is even aware of what child life practices truly are. While the child life journey is unique to each individual student and while I appreciate this variety, in a way the actual journey is not diverse enough. Moving forward I know I personally need to work harder to embrace both the differences and similarities of child life community members, especially as a white female entering a profession where, as of now, my coworkers will almost always look like me. We learn from differences. We need diversity in our field. We need to make this journey accessible to all so everyone in our profession may find solace in its beautiful difficulties and so every child served by child life receives equal and ethical care.
Wheelwright, D. (2020, July 13). It’s Not the Shark It’s the Water: The Intersection of Whiteness and Child Life [Webinar]. The Association of Child Life Professionals.