Prominent Psychologist Brings Diversity Discussions to Antioch

†by Megan Smith, fourth-year, and Vanessa Partridge, fifth-year candidates in the Doctoral program in Clinical Psychology

Antioch University New England recently hosted one of the preeminent psychologists in the country, Joseph White, PhD. Dr. White spent Friday, September 29 to Monday, October 2 speaking to and meeting with professors and students from many of the programs at the graduate school. He was invited by Gargi Roysircar-Sodowsky, PhD, director of ANE’s Multicultural Center and the Support Group for Ethnic and Racial Diversity (SERD), to join the faculty and student body in discussions about the importance of multiculturalism.

Dr. White addressed three major themes during his visit. The first theme was presented through a faculty colloquium devoted to addressing diversity at Antioch New England, where Dr. White utilized lecture, interactive discussion, and case studies to assist professors and administrators in considering the changes that ANE needs to make in order to create a more welcoming environment for students and professors of differing races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Dr. White highlighted the need for ANE to seek out diverse individuals in their cultural context rather than waiting for them to come to the school, in order to increase the diversity of the faculty and student body.

In several presentations to the student body, Dr. White emphasized the need for students to prepare for careers that will require competence in dealing with the increasing numbers of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. Dr. White pointed out that many Antioch students do not currently have much exposure to individuals different than themselves; this makes achieving cultural competency more difficult. Dr. White gave several recommendations for ways that students can be effective educators and psychologists when dealing with ethnic and racial minorities. They include modifying techniques in order to be more culturally responsive, entering the milieu and understanding the worldview of racially and ethnically diverse clients, and focusing on the strengths of individuals instead of their limitations.

Dr. White discussed his view of the factors that African American men need to have in their lives in order to achieve psychological well-being and success. Seven psychological strengths that educators and counselors should assist African Americans to activate and utilize in their lives were highlighted: improvisation, resilience, connectedness to others, spirituality, emotional vitality, gallows humor, and a healthy suspicion of “you know who.” Dr. White pointed out that in the current educational system, young African American males often become disconnected and disengaged very early in life as they may not believe that there is “a pot of gold at the education rainbow.” In order to really impact a child’s life, we need to find a way to link the four main influences in their lives: family, community, peers, and school.

Members of the Antioch New England community found Dr. White’s visit to be a welcome contribution to the graduate school’s dialog around multiculturalism. Vic Pantesco, EdD, director of the Antioch Psychological Services Center remarked, “it is refreshing to hear someone whose history, energy, and humor showcase the scholarly content in real life.” After each of his presentations, students crowded around Dr. White to discuss situations from their own lives and practica experiences that they wanted to handle more effectively. Students wondered aloud how they could overcome barriers of race and culture to be effective in their careers. According to student Nicole Spanakis, “Dr. White … has been an inspiration to many of us and has supported our efforts to make the Antioch community a friendlier, multicultural, and multiracial environment.” It will be exciting to see the long-term impact of this visit to the future of Antioch New England and its students.

Dr. White received his PhD in clinical psychology from Michigan State University in 1961, and spent the next 45 years in the field of psychology as a teacher, mentor, administrator, clinical supervisor, writer, consultant, and practicing psychologist. Dr. White has been and continues to be a pioneer in the field of Black and ethnic psychology; he has been instrumental in making psychology a more racially and ethnically responsive field. Currently professor emeritus of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine, he is a member of the Board of Trustees of The Menninger Foundation in Houston, Texas. Dr. White travels around the country educating students, mental health professionals, and schools about the importance of increasing multicultural competence as the number of people of color in the United States continues to increase. Dr. White is the author of several papers and four books: The Psychology of Blacks: An African-American Perspective (1999; 1990; 1984); Black Man Emerging: Facing the Past and Seizing a Future in America (1999); Black Fathers: An Invisible Presence in America (2006); and The Troubled Adolescent (1989).