Volume 51   Number 4 Fall 2018

From our Members

Ediited by Susan M. Wolfe, Susan Wolfe and Associates

Using Fiction in the Undergraduate Community Psychology Course

Written by David S. Glenwick, Fordham University, John N. Moritsugu, Pacific Lutheran University, Andrew E. Rasmussen, Fordham University, and Philip T. Sicker, Fordham University


EDITORS’ NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 TCP issue. The print version omitted a segment of the article. We are including the article in its entirety in this issue of TCP. The online version of the article is Winter 2017, Volume 50, Number 1 in the Education Connection column.

A number of diverse types of audio and visual resources have been recommended and employed as adjunctive/supplemental instructional materials in undergraduate community psychology courses. For example, the instructor’s manuals for two of the leading texts in the field (Kloos et al., 2012; Moritsugu, Vera, Wong, & Duffy, 2013) suggest the following as possibilities: movies (e.g., Do the Right Thing, And the Band Played On), videos (e.g., An Ounce of Prevention; videos on women in various cultural contexts), television programs (e.g., Eyes on the Prize, episodes of Desperate Housewives and Friday Night Lights), websites (e.g., related to community services in various countries), newspaper articles (e.g., from the Tuesday Science section of the New York Times, local articles related to community issues), magazines, and songs.

The benefits of using literature (e.g., fiction and memoirs) in the teaching of psychology have frequently been explicated (e.g., Wheeler, 2009), especially with regard to personality (e.g., Stone & Stone, 1990), abnormal (e.g., Christler, 1999), and developmental (e.g., Boyatzis, 1992) psychology. However, to date there has been scant discussion about utilizing literature in community psychology courses. The present article is aimed at illustrating the use of fiction (in this case the novel Push) in the undergraduate community psychology classroom. This example hopefully can serve as encouragement for instructors to similarly and creatively introduce such works into the syllabus.

The Assignment

Fordham University’s undergraduate community psychology course is a fairly standard one-semester survey of the field. The Push assignment is given by the instructor (the first author) at a point in the course at which approximately two-thirds (i.e., Chapter 1-8 in the Kloos et al. [2012] text) of the material has been covered. The students are asked to read the book and then “write a one- to two-page paper in which [they] show, in detail, how the novel (incidents, themes, characters, etc.) illustrates constructs, terms, models, theories, etc. from community psychology.”

Push (Sapphire, 1997) has been the work chosen because it is short (140 pages), readable (easily read in 2 hours), and rich in examples of community psychology concepts — three important criteria in selecting literary works for this type of exercise. In raw and graphic language (a trigger warning is given by the instructor) and from the first-person perspective, it tells the story of Precious Jones, a 16-year-old African American girl living in Harlem, NYC, in 1987. Sexually abused by her father and physically and emotionally abused by her mother, extremely overweight, and illiterate, Precious is directed to an alternative school. There, in a small class and with a caring teacher, as well as in an HIV-positive adolescent support group, she develops a more positive sense of herself, her abilities, and her potential. The novel ends on a hopeful but cautiously realistic note, with Precious nurturing her young (second) child and advancing academically toward earning her GED. (Push was subsequently made into the feature-length film Precious [Daniels et al., 2009].)

The students have a week to complete the assignment. Their papers are graded on a 3-point scale (check+, check, and check-), based on both quantity (number of concepts accurately noted) and quality (richness of the illustrations of the concepts). Points earned are factored by the instructor into the final course grade (similar to what is frequently done with extra-credit assignments). In addition to the written papers, a class session is set aside for discussion of the book and of students’ reactions to it.


The assignment has, to date, been given to four cohorts of students (N = 45). Table 1 presents the frequencies of the examples offered by students in their papers. The 14 categories were selected by the instructor as ones reflecting important concepts from class lectures and the text. Each student example was coded by the instructor as belonging to one of the categories. A particular category could be scored only once for each student. Thus, for instance, illustrations of Kelly’s ecological principles and Moos’ social climate dimensions in the same paper would be scored once under “Ecological models/approaches.”

To obtain an interrater reliability estimate, eight of the papers were scored by a second doctoral-level community psychologist. Of the 28 examples detected and categorized by the first rater, 26 were similarly detected and categorized by the second rater, for an interrater agreement of 93%.

The 45 students generated a total of 151 examples (M = 3.4). As Table 1 indicates, the most frequently cited concept was social support (e.g. types or sources of support), mentioned by more than half of the students. For example, “Ms. Rain [the alternative school teacher] provided Precious with emotional, tangible, and informational support.” Sense of community (e.g., elements of the McMillan and Chavis model) was the next most frequent category, offered by almost half of the students. Illustratively, “there is a clear sense of membership and belonging between the girls at the alternative school, as they all have the shared goals of overcoming abuse and succeeding academically.” Instance of stressors (16 students) and coping (14 students) were also provided fairly often.

Because of the commonality of much of the subject matter typically covered in the introductory community psychology course, one might expect some agreement across sites in the distributions obtained by this type of assignment. It is important to note, though, that the particular distribution obtained is likely also heavily contextually driven. That is, it probably would vary due to (a) differential emphasis of materials across instructors and texts, (b) the point in the syllabus at which the assignment is made, and (c) the specific literary work chosen. Because of these factors, there likely would be limited generalizability of distributions.

Table 1:  Frequency of Examples of Community Psychology Concepts.



Social support


Sense of community






Ecological models/approaches


Protective/risk factors


Ecological levels




Alternative settings


Blaming the victim/fundamental attribution error


Core values


Empowerment/competence development


Helper therapy principle


Attending to unheard voices


Note. N = 45.


Bringing fiction into community psychology courses has benefits for both students and instructors. For students, it makes abstract concepts more concrete and real. As one student wrote, “Push brought to life what we have learned in class.” In the words of another student: “Nothing was sugarcoated by Precious, so why should it be for the rest of us? The very reason why I was initially hesitant about this book is the same reason why so many people ignored Precious for so long, because what you don’t know won’t bother or hurt you.”

For instructors, the assignment provides an additional mechanism for assessing students’ grasp of community psychology concepts. Both true positives (i.e., accurate application of terms to aspects of the book) and false positives (i.e., inaccurate illustrations) are revealed. With respect to the latter (i.e., misidentifications), for instance, one student erroneously cited Precious’s gradually broadened perspectives on different beliefs and sexual preferences as an illustration of multidimensionality in social support networks. Finally, a low frequency in a particular category (i.e., the absence of identification of a concept) might suggest that perhaps that concept has been insufficiently or ineffectively presented. For example, although Push contains many instances of Precious being viewed by others as the cause of her problems, only 6 of the 45 students provided an example of blaming the victim.

Although this article has focused on one particular work, a number of short novels, novellas, and short stories could be profitably read, written about, and discussed in community psychology courses. Table 2 presents examples of these, organized thematically. The wide range of possible pertinent works can underscore for students that, although the specific expression of community psychology concepts depends on time and setting, the concepts themselves are applicable across centuries and cultures.  

Fiction provides a means of acquiring insights into and reflecting upon the human experience that complements the quantitative and qualitative research of community service.  Though very different from one another, each is a valid way of knowing. Integrating the two in the undergraduate community psychology course, we can productively enrich our students’ understanding and appreciation of both.

Table 2:  Possible Works of Fiction for Community Psychology Courses      





Interrelationships between the individual and the community

Winesburg, Ohio

Sherwood Anderson

short story collection


James Joyce

short story collection

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg

Mark Twain

short story

The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne


Social support

Positive community       support

Support deprivation

Babette’s Feast

Isak Dinesen

short story

My Antonia

Willa Cather


Daisy Miller

Henry James


Tonio Kröger

Thomas Mann


Bartleby the Scrivener

Herman Melville

short story





Physical disability

The Awakening

Kate Chopin


Sonny’s Blues

James Baldwin

short story

Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe


The Monster

Stephen Crane


Empowerment/competence development

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston


Barn Burning

William Faulkner

short story


Boyatzis, C. J. (1992). Let the caged bird sing: Using literature to teach developmental psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 19, 221-222.

Christler, J. C. (1999). Novels as case-study materials for psychology students. In M. E. Ware & D. E. Johnson (Eds.), Handbook of demonstrations and activities in the teaching of psychology: (Vol III. Personality, abnormal, clinical-counseling, and social (2nd ed., pp. 69-70). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Daniels, L. (Producer/Director), Magness, G. (Producer), Siegel-Magness, S. (Producer), Winfrey, O. (Producer), Heller, T. (Producer), Perry, T. (Producer), & Cortes, L. (Producer). (2009). Precious [Motion picture]. United States: Lee Daniels Entertainment.

Kloos, B., Hill, J., Thomas, E., Wandersman, A., Elias, M. J., & Dalton, J. H. (Eds.). (2012). Community psychology: ­­­­­Linking individuals and communities (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage.

Moritsugu, J., Vera, E., Wong, F. T., & Duffy, K. G. (2013). Community psychology (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Sapphire. (1997). Push. New York, NY: Vintage Books

Stone, S. S., & Stone, A. A. (Eds.). (1990). The abnormal personality through literature. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Wheeler, R. W. (2009). Effectively using literature circles in the psychology classroom. In D. S. Dunn, J. S. Halonen, & R. A. Smith (Eds.), Teaching critical thinking in psychology: A handbook of best practices (pp. 251-256). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Comments or questions may be sent to: David S. Glenwick (, Fordham University, John N. Moritsugu (, Pacific Lutheran University, Andrew E. Rasmussen (, Fordham University, and Philip T. Sicker (, Fordham University 


Call to Action. Applying Core Competencies to Prevent Climate Change

Intervening in Communities to Reduce Carbon Emissions

Written by Christopher Corbett14B._Chris_Corbett.JPG


In Part I: Community Psychology and the Resist Movement (Corbett, 2017), I made the case that there is a moral obligation to resist our elected leaders when they make decisions clearly contrary to the public health and welfare (p. 17). The specific case cited was President Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the United Nations Paris Agreement on Climate Change. In Part I I concluded that Community Psychologists and all citizens concerned about climate change are obligated to push to implement the Paris Agreement (p. 18). Part II puts Part I into practice by issuing a “Call to Action” which lays out a specific path to practically implement the Paris Agreement by applying various “core competencies”.


On October 5, 2016, the United Nations Paris Agreement on Climate Change was approved by the majority of nations bringing the agreement into effect on November 4, 2016 (UN Secretary General 2016). According to the UN Secretary General (UNSG) climate impacts are devastating lives, livelihoods, and prospects for a better future (p. 1). He urges all governments and sectors of society to fully implement the Paris Agreement by taking urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and support the most vulnerable in adapting to climate impacts (p. 2).

Given global consensus on grave impacts and urgency to act, the time is now for all concerned with climate change to empower citizen action and participation at state, region, and community levels to implement the Paris Agreement and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Advancing Community Psychology’s Mission and Values with Core Competencies

The global field of Community Psychology (CP) is strongly committed to research and social action, promoting health and empowerment and preventing problems at all levels. Core values of Community Psychologists (CPs) often include: a concern for all members of communities, particularly including for harmful environmental conditions, as well as a strong commitment to prevention, empowerment and citizen participation (Heller et al. 1984).

The interest of Community Psychologists in preventing climate change is longstanding.  To illustrate, it was the subject of a Special Section of the American Journal of Community Psychology (see volume, 47, June 2011, pages 349-426). One key conclusion of this special section was that it will take practitioners, researchers and activists to join together to address global climate change (p. 352).  The Special Section urged the field to break its silence and find solutions “to the biggest crisis humans have ever faced”, declaring the Special Section as a “call to action” (p. 352).

The essential role of Community Psychology practitioners is increasingly apparent with the consensus achieved and issuance of “core competencies” as described in Dalton and Wolfe’s column (2012).  Those core competencies help provide a detailed roadmap for practitioners, researchers and activists to intervene successfully in communities. Secondly, the value of the core competencies is well described in two Special Issues of the Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, Volume 7(4), Dec. 2016 and Volume 8(1), March 2017.

As applied to the global crisis of the earth’s warming, the application of the community psychology core practice competencies becomes critical to unblocking the critical path to prevent climate change. That is, certain core competencies have been identified as enabling citizen participation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (Corbett 2017). Specifically, the following core competencies described in Dalton and Wolfe’s column (2012) are identified as playing an essential role in preventing and mitigating the harmful impacts of climate change: Empowerment (#2), Prevention and Health Promotion (#7), Public Policy Analysis, Development & Advocacy (# 15), and Community Education, Information, Dissemination & Building Awareness (# 16).  Many roles exist for practitioners, researchers and citizens to help prevent climate change (Corbett 2017).

Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

Multiple peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals assert 97% (or more) of actively publishing climate scientists agree climate warming trends are “extremely likely” due to human activities (NASA 2017). The report goes on to cite excerpts from supporting statements from 18 scientific institutions (p. 2-9) providing clear scientific consensus the earth is warming. The American Psychological Association noted this scientific consensus was earlier (APA Resolution, 2011), with global climate change analyzed in detail (APA Report 2009) and identified as one of the greatest challenges facing humanity in this century (Swim et al. 2011). While the vast majority of nations globally have reached consensus, the Paris Agreement opponents are Nicaragua, Syria, and the U.S. (Rucker & Johnson 2017).  Clearly, consensus exists among scientists and nations that climate change results from human behavior or activity.

Urgent Action Warranted

Given the UNSG’s conclusions, action is immediately needed by all those concerned about climate change. Yet on June 1, 2017 President Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (Viscidi 2017), which only increases the urgency for action. Ironically, the U.S. is the leading emitter of carbon emissions on a per-capita basis (Kortenhorst 2017) and imposes serious burdens on the poor (McKibben 2007). The U.S. withdrawal gravely jeopardizes the global progress in fighting carbon emissions achieved in the Paris Agreement.

Fortunately, the pursuit of more renewable energy to cut carbon emissions is often driven by state and local policies, practices, and incentives where the opportunity for citizen participation and demand for renewable energy largely resides. Urgent action is needed where opportunities are greatest: at state and local levels, where grassroots advocacy is critical for substantial progress to occur. Specifically, this requires policy intervention at the local level, education of local policymakers including on needs of low-income customers and education of citizens on their rights and opportunities to expand or choose existing renewable energy options.    

Recommended Actions

Concerned citizen action can advance implementation of the UN Paris. The UNSG recommends all governments and all sectors of society urgently act to cut greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen climate resistance and support the most vulnerable in adapting to climate change. Given Community Psychology’s values, all bachelor, master and doctoral level CPs are well positioned to intervene at the state, region, and local community levels, including towns, cities and villages. Community Psychologists are well suited to play various roles that include providing policy consultation; and promoting and empowering citizen participation in renewable energy decision making through education and advocacy, with particular attention to the needs of low-income citizens and those most deeply impacted by climate change.

The urgent need for intervention is due to the profound shift from historic regulated monopoly service where government decision making largely excluded residential customers from participation and decision making, to a relatively unregulated regime where customers can exercise renewable energy decision making. That is, many customers, depending on jurisdiction, can arrange their own renewable source of energy-- which often requires they understand costs and rates, sign contracts and apply for rebates such as federal, state and local tax incentives, if they are to protect their own financial interests. Intervention must also include advocacy on behalf of low-income customers to ensure that they are provided understandable and affordable opportunities, so they also may participate in renewable energy decision making.


The profound implications of climate change present a grave global crisis that justifies urgent action by all Community Psychologists, organizations, and citizens concerned about climate change. The United States’ apparent abrogation of its obligations under the Paris Agreement exacerbates the crisis and increases the urgency for action. 

Consistent with Community Psychology’s values and core competencies, all those concerned about climate change are needed to intervene at the grassroots level, with an emphasis on prevention, to reduce carbon emissions through policy intervention at state/regional levels, as well as local levels (towns, cities, villages). Such interventions include promoting citizen participation by all community members through advocacy, education, and empowerment, with emphasis on low income and the most vulnerable citizens adversely impacted by climate change.

There is an urgent need for “boots on the ground” -- Community Psychology practitioners and researchers, as well as citizens have critical roles to play. Such roles include advising and intervening at the state and local level; drafting model policies where they are lacking at the local level; researching best practice policies from model jurisdictions; educating policy makers and citizens through Letters to the Editor and Op-Eds; and modeling renewable energy choice yourself. A list of specific roles, policy interventions, Letter to Editor and Op-Ed examples, and local renewable energy policy, with reference to case studies of four states’ low-income programs is contained in Corbett (2017) and provides a valuable starting point for all who are concerned about climate change--and willing to intervene to prevent, or mitigate, the grave environmental consequences of human imposed climate change.

Christopher Corbett, MA Community Psychology, is a former government regulator employed in the regulation of N.Y. State’s gas and electric utilities and author of “Accountability and Ethics in Nonprofit Organizations”, Global Encyclopedia of Public Administration, Public Policy and Governance (2018, Springer International Publishing).


APA Resolution (2011). Resolution on affirming psychologists’ role in addressing global climate change.  Accessed from:

APA Report (2009). Psychology and Global Climate Change: Addressing a Multi-faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges. A Report by the APA’s Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change.  Accessed from:

Corbett, C.  (2017). Community Psychology and the Resist Movement: Do Community Psychologists Have a Moral Obligation to Resist? The Community Psychologist, 50(4), 17-19.

Corbett, C. (2017 June). Public Policy 601: Climate Change & Grassroots Advocacy. Workshop presented at the 2017 Biennial Conference of the Society for Community Research and Action, Ottawa, Canada.

Dalton, J. & Wolfe, S.M. (2012). Competencies #1-#18. The Community Psychologist 45(4), 10-13.

Heller, K., Price, R.H., Reinharz, S., Riger, S., & Wandersman, A. (1984). Psychology and community change: Challenges of the future. Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press.

Kortenhorst, J. (2017). “Statement on U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement”. Rocky Mountain Institute’s response to President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement.  Accessed from     

McKibben, Bill (2007). Deep economy: The wealth of communities and the durable future. N.Y.: Henry Holt.

NASA (2017). Scientific consensus: Earth’s climate is warming. Accessed from:

Rucker, P. & Johnson, J. (2017, June1). Trump announces U.S. will exit Paris climate deal, sparking criticism at home and abroad. The Washington Post, 1-6. Accessed from:

Swim, J. K., Stern, P. C., Doherty, T. J., Clayton, S., Reser, J. P., Weber, E. U., Gifford, R. & Howard, G. S. (2011).  Psychology’s Contributions to Understanding and Addressing Global Climate Change. Introduction to Special Issue. American Psychologist, 66(4), 241-250.

UN Secretary General (2016, October 5). Statement by the Secretary-General on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Accessed from: https.unmi/

Viscidi, Lisa (2017, June 23). Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement challenges Latin America. The New York Times. Op-Ed, 1-4.  Accessed from:


The Virtues of Green Spaces and Community Gardens

A Natural Way to Engage with the Community

Written by August John Hoffman, Metropolitan State University14C._Hoffman_Picture_1.jpg

Gardens have long been associated with psychological, emotional, and spiritual serenity and relaxation. In many ways, they serve as sanctuaries that help individuals escape the anxiety, stress and trauma that can exist in urban dwelling (Guerlain & Campbell, 2016). Gardens provide nourishment not only for our physical bodies, but also for our mind and soul. Community gardens have existed for centuries as a means of producing healthy foods typically in the aftermath of some form of natural (or human-related) crisis or disaster (Okvat & Zautra, 2011). During WWI and WWII, so-called “Victory Gardens” quickly developed in the United States as an efficient process for Americans to produce easily obtainable foods for their families and donate their excess food (i.e., non-perishables) to soldiers serving overseas. By 1944 an estimated 18 to 20 million families were participating in some form of a community gardening project and were producing an estimated 40% vegetables in the United States (Smithsonian Gardens, n.d.). As food production became scarcer as WWII progressed, many home owners in the United States tore out their nicely manicured lawns and planted vegetable gardens as a primary source of food. Additionally, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted the first vegetable garden at the White House lawn in 1943 and thus vegetable gardens were now being described as more of a civic responsibility and “patriotic duty” among civilians. 

Modern Community Gardens: Bringing Groups Together for a Common Cause

From a psychological perspective, the existence of community gardens provided individuals with a strong sense of comradery and cohesiveness during periods of food shortages, drought, and climate change (Harris, 2009). Recent research has consistently shown how groups of individuals can actually improve communication and reduce potential conflict with each other through the mechanisms of increased contact and interdependency (Al Ramiah, & Hewstone, 2013). When communities provide individuals with opportunities to increase contact with each other through the development of mutually beneficial programs (i.e., community gardens, green spaces, and urban forestry programs), many positive psychosocial benefits begin to emerge. The first thing that develops is that previously held negative stereotypes are debunked as increased contact affords individuals to discover that they actually have more in common with each other than previously determined. Al Ramiah and Hewstone (2013) also discovered in their research that the propensity for violence was significantly reduced among groups that historically have remained politically and diametrically opposed from one another, such as Israeli and Palestinian students. Specifically, as contact among the groups remained consistent over time during the participation of a peace program, prejudice within the groups diminished and was replaced by trust. In a similar way, community gardens provide community members with an ideal opportunity to work collaboratively with each other while providing healthy and nutritious foods for low-income families that also reside in the community.

SCRA Grant: Community Gardening at Boy’s Totem Town14C.Hoffman_Picture_2.jpg

In 2017 I was awarded a SCRA mini-grant ($750) that was designed to help construct a vegetable garden for a boy’s detention center (Boy’s Totem Town) in St. Paul, MN. The youths living in the detention center were adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18 and were living in the facility as an alternative to incarceration. In May 2017, we used the funds from the SCRA grant and began the work of cultivating, weeding, planting and harvesting the vegetables.  Many of the youths in the Boy’s Totem Town facility wanted to participate in the gardening program but they had little experience in working collaboratively on an outdoor gardening project. Over the next five months (from May through September) I witnessed an incredible transformation among the youths involving interdependency and group cohesiveness. In the beginning of the gardening project, the 15 youths remained ethnically polarized and lacked group efficiency in the development of the project. There was frequent criticism and conflict within the group because the youths had not learned to cooperate with each other nor did they understand the benefits of interdependency and collective self-efficacy. Over the next several weeks the boys realized that to grow the vegetables they would need to work together. They began to develop a coordinated effort in creating groups of three to complete the more physically demanding projects (i.e., weeding and hand-cultivating with a shovel). The boys also realized that when they worked together within a coordinated and cooperative process, the work was completed at a faster rate and they could begin planting vegetables of their choice. Additionally, as the foods were gradually harvested in the later months of the summer (i.e., cabbages, tomatoes, peppers, and corn), they participated in preparing the foods (i.e., salsas, coleslaw, and squash) that they had grown in the kitchen of the Boy’s Totem Town facility. At the end of the growing season we conducted short interviews with each of the participants in the Boy’s Totem Town garden and they indicated they enjoyed preparing and growing their foods in the community garden and they indicated that they would be participating in future community service programs like community gardening.

Humans have evolved with a need not only to share experiences in an outdoor environment such as green spaces (White, Alcock, Wheeler, & Depledge, 2013), but we also have evolved with a basic need to cooperate and interact with each other. Additionally – we need to be provided with opportunities to share our skills with one another. The existence of community gardens and green spaces provides us with a unique opportunity to understand one another and discover the numerous ways we can share our skills in the development of a more natural and resilient environment.


Guerlain, M. A., & Campbell, C. (2016). From sanctuaries to prefigurative social change: Creating health-enabling spaces in East London community gardens. Journal of Political and Social Psychology, 4(1), 220-237.

Harris, E. (2009). The role of community gardens in creating healthy communities. Australian

      Planner, 46(2), 24-27.

Okvat, H. A., & Zautra, A. J. (2011). Community gardening: A parsimonious path to individual, community, and environmental resilience. American Journal of Community Psychology, 47, 374-387.

Smithsonian Gardens (n.d.). Grown from the Past: A Short History of Community Gardening in the United States. Accessed at:

White, M. P., Alcock, I., Wheeler, B. W., & Depledge, M. H. (2013). Would you be happier in a greener urban area? A fixed-effects analysis of panel data. Psychological Science, 24(6), 920-928.


I Am Not Alone in My Struggle

Importance of Online Communities for Turner Syndrome

Written by: Kristin M. Schramer and Kathryn D. Lafreniere, University of Windsor

The growth of online communities, communities in which members communicate primarily through electronic means, has led to interest in their ability to develop a sense of community in their members, often referred to as Sense of Virtual Community (SOVC; Abfalter, Zanglia, & Mueller, 2012). There is evidence that members of online communities develop SOVC similarly to face-to-face (FTF) communities in line with the four dimensions of Sense of Community proposed by McMillan and Chavis (1986), which include: membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection. Online support communities can transcend geographical, physical, and financial barriers to communication among members, and therefore may be important for individuals diagnosed with rare genetic conditions like Turner Syndrome (TS).

TS is characterized by the total or partial loss of the second X chromosome. It is estimated that TS occurs in 1 of every 2,500 live female births. The most common characteristics are depleted levels of estrogen and progesterone leading to amenorrhea, ovarian failure, and infertility, as well as short stature (Bondy, 2007). Because TS is a rare diagnosis, this leads to a geographically disperse community in which individuals often go into adulthood without ever interacting with another individual with TS.

Facebook groups, the Turner Syndrome Society of Canada (TSSC), and the Turner Syndrome Society of the United States (TSSUS), are communities that provide the opportunity for individuals affected by TS to connect. As with any Facebook group, members of TS Facebook groups can communicate through posting and responding to questions or comments on the group’s “wall.” Group members can also like or dislike other members’ posts and can send friend requests and private messages to other group members (Facebook, n.d.).

TSSC (n.d.) and TSSUS (n.d.) are national organizations that provide support for individuals affected by TS for a yearly membership fee which varies, based on the type of membership purchased (i.e., individual, family, or professional). These groups offer the opportunity to participate in FTF interactions through their annual conferences and events held by local support groups. Their webpages provide access to up-to-date research on TS, the ability to pose questions to health professionals, discussion boards, information on local groups and fundraising activities, and online stores. These organizations also maintain active social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. (TSSC, n.d.; TSSUS, n.d.). Published recommendations specific to individuals with TS indicate that early involvement with organizations like TSSUS should be encouraged (Bondy, 2007). However, to the authors’ knowledge, no research has investigated the benefits of belonging to such communities.

Exploring Online Communities for Turner Syndrome

To learn about the potential benefits of belonging to TS online communities, members of TS-based Facebook groups, the TSSC, and the TSSUS were recruited through their communities and Facebook posts. Respondents completed an online survey that included measures of community participation unique to each community, health-related social support (Perceived Health-Related Social Support from Facebook Friends Measure; Oh, Lauckner, Boehmer, Fewins-Bliss, & Li, 2013), perceived level of TS knowledge, and Sense of Virtual Community (Sense of Community Index 2--Virtual Community Version; Abfalter, Zaglia, & Mueller, 2012). Questionnaires were adapted so that measures referred to the participating communities. Nine responses were received from individuals affected by TS who belonged to at least one online TS community. As there were only nine respondents, their responses cannot be generalized and may not be reflective of other community members’ experiences. However, despite the small sample size, we felt that it was important to share these women’s experiences. 

All respondents (n = 9) reported that they felt more knowledgeable about TS due to their community membership as they indicated this statement was at least somewhat true. It should be noted that three of these respondents belonged to more than one community for a total of twelve responses (m = 6.08 out of a maximum of 7). This knowledge came from attending FTF events and communication with other community members. All respondents indicated that they participated in their communities (n = 9). FTF activities included attending national or local events (n = 9), while online activities included reading material from their community (e.g., e-mails, posts, and publications; n = 8) and communicating with other community members through online forums (e.g., posing or answering questions; n = 4). FTF events, such as attending TSSC or TSSUS conferences, as well as Facebook groups, were used to keep in touch with others and to form FTF relationships. Participating in FTF activities, such as local chapter events, as well as online activities, such as posting to discussion boards, were used to promote education and awareness about TS.

The mean score of all respondents (n = 7) who completed the adapted Health-Related Social Support from Facebook Friends Measure (Oh et al., 2013) fell above the mid-point of the scale (n = 7) and indicated that they felt the items were at least somewhat true. This demonstrates that respondents generally felt that other community members would provide them with support regarding their health-related needs. It should be noted that three of these respondents belonged to more than one community for a total of ten responses (m = 5.85 out of a maximum of 7). This belief occurred for appraisal, esteem, and emotional support, but not for tangible support. When asked about social support they have provided to other community members, respondents reported providing informational support on health- related issues, tangible support (e.g., giving rides), and emotional support and encouragement. This paralleled the reported types of support respondents indicated they received from their communities, reporting they had received informational support as well as emotional support and encouragement.

Of the seven respondents who completed the Sense of Community Index 2--Virtual Version (Abfalter et al., 2012) five respondents’ scores fell above the mid-point of the scale indicating they mostly or completely agreed with these statements. It should be noted that three of these respondents belonged to more than one community for a total of ten responses (m = 1.89 out of a maximum of 3). Results for each of the subscales were analogous to the overall score. This demonstrates that respondents to this survey perceived a sense of membership and influence over their communities, that these communities fulfilled the needs of their members, and that members felt a shared emotional connection with others in their community. The shared emotional connection subscale had the greatest mean score, which may indicate that the most important aspect of feeling like one is connected to their community involved having quality relationships, sharing similar experiences, and feeling invested in the community.

As stated earlier, these responses should be viewed with caution as they may not be reflective of all members of TS communities, due to the very small sample size and some incomplete questionnaires. Additionally, the benefits of FTF as well as online interaction are entangled within these communities and therefore are difficult to tease apart. Nonetheless, this preliminary evidence is encouraging, as this study is the first demonstration of the benefits of belonging to communities for individuals affected by TS. Despite being geographically dispersed, these communities promote a sense of community within their members. While the current findings cannot determine how sense of community develops or how it may be related to benefits of belonging to these communities (i.e., knowledge and support), they indicate that these respondents actively participate in their communities and experience benefits which are likely due, at least in part, to being able to connect online with others affected by TS. The ability to connect with others and obtain information from the community electronically allows these individuals with TS to overcome geographical, physical, and financial barriers to connecting with others affected by TS. The importance of such a connection is best exemplified by one respondent’s explanation for participation in her community, “It is a continual reminder that I am not alone in my struggle.”


Abfalter, D., Zaglia, M. E., & Mueller, J. (2012). Sense of virtual community: A follow up on its measurement. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 400–404. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2011.10.010

Bondy, C. A. (2007). Care of girls and women with Turner syndrome: a guideline of the Turner Syndrome Study Group. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 92, 10-25. doi: 10.1210/jc.2006-1374

Facebook (n.d.). Groups. Retrieved from:

McMillan, D., & Chavis, D. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 6–23.

Turner Syndrome Society of Canada (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from:

Turner Syndrome Society of the United States (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from: