The Life and Death of a Multicultural Feminist Pioneer:
Martha Bernal (1931-2001)*
Melba J. T. Vasquez
Dr. Martha Bernal,
Martha Bernal was born in
In the early 1970s, Dr. Bernal dedicated herself to the goal of ensuring that students of color had the opportunity to receive graduate training. She applied much of her research to increase the status of ethnic minority recruitment, retention and training. Her social action research was designed to focus attention on the dearth of ethnic minority psychologists and to recommend steps for addressing that problem. This work is published in the American Psychologist (e.g., Bernal & Castro, 1994), and The Counseling Psychologist (Quintana & Bernal, 1995); she documented the low numbers of minority graduate students and faculty members in psychology departments throughout the United States, as well as the importance of ethnic minority curricula (Vasquez, 2002).
Dr. Bernal implemented strategies to increase the
presence of ethnic minority students.
While at the
Dr. Bernal contributed much of her energy to leadership activities in the profession of psychology. She was involved in drafting the Board of Ethnic Minority Affairs (BEMA) by-laws and in the complex process involved in establishing the BEMA. She served on the Education and Training Committee of the BEMA, and also on the Steering Committee Task Force, which established the association which is now called the National Latino/a Psychological Association, previously called National Hispanic Psychological Association (NHPA). She served as its second president and as treasurer, and was an active member of the NHPA executive committee from its inception through 1986.
Despite some of her health problems, which forced her to “drop out” of volunteer activities for a period of time, she returned to her social action leadership activities by serving on APA’s Commission on Ethnic Minority, Recruitment, Retention and Training (CEMRRAT). She subsequently served on the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest. When she died she had been an active member of the CEMRRAT 2 Task Force, overseeing the implementation of the CEMRRAT recommendations, and had been an active member of the Committee of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Affairs.
received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Life Achievement Award
from Division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues),
the Hispanic Research Center Lifetime Award from
Dr. Martha Bernal
demonstrated outstanding initiative and dedication to promoting the presence of
ethnic minority psychologists in the profession. She provided guidance and
inspiration to a wide range and large number of psychologists of color, men and
women. She had a special impact on women, especially Latinas, and other women
of color. To honor her commitment to advancing scholars of color, a Martha
Bernal scholarship fund has been set up at
Bernal, M. E. & Castro, F. G. (1994). Are clinical psychologists prepared for service and research with ethnic minorities? Report of a decade of progress. American Psychologist, 49, 797-805.
Bernal, M. E. & Knight, G. P.
(1993) (Eds.). Ethnic
identity: Formation and transmission
among Hispanics and other minorities.
Quintana, S. M. & Bernal, M. E. (1995). Ethnic minority training in counseling psycology: Comparisons with clinical psychology and proposed standards. The Counseling Psychologist. 23, 102-121
Vasquez, M. J. T. (2002, August). Complexities of the
Vasquez, M. J. T. & Lopez, S. (2002). Martha E. Bernal (1931-2001). American Psychologist, 57, 362-363.
*Versions of this column have been published in various newsletters and announcements. This column appeared in The Feminist Psychologist, Newsletter of the Society for the Psychology of Women, Division 35 of the American Psychological Association, Volume 30, Number 1, Winter, 2003. Appearing with permission of the author.