Whether rooted in the works of Inez Prosser or Mamie Phipps Clark, the field of psychology, particularly as it pertains to the mental health and social growth of Black children, has relied heavily on Black female psychologists. Still, these women of color – and hundreds of others – often remain hidden in plain view when examining the history and trajectory of American psychology.
To broaden the discourse to one that more fully documents the achievements of Black female psychologists, “I am Psyched: Inspiring Histories, Inspiring Lives: Women of Color in Psychology” – a multimedia pop-up museum – began its annual tour Feb. 21 on the campus of Howard University. The museum is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA), Howard University, National Black Employees Association, and by a member of the Wright Institute Community.
“It has always been important in this field, especially as Black women, to tell the truth about what we saw and researched within our communities, but also to be able to interpret that truth and introduce it to people – 90 percent of whom believed they knew more about us than we did,” panelist Lula A. Beatty, senior director of APA’s Health Disparities Office, told the crowd of about 80 during the ceremony. “I found early in my career that not everyone wanted the truth told and so I had a commitment and a mission to serve despite the challenges of sometimes having to justify myself.”
Beatty spoke of a time when presenting data that empirically showed Black youth to have no greater drug use or dependency than Whites, caused her to be denied grant funding. “It was sound data and conclusive, but it was not what people wanted known,” she said.
Beatty said that finding a means for courting social change within the field of psychology has often meant working against the grain of the science’s very foundation.
She along with Peggy Carr, National Center for Education Statistics with the U.S. Department of Education; Jessica Henderson Daniel, president-elect of APA; Constance Ellison, senior associate dean for Research and Graduate Studies at Howard University; and Linda McMurdock, vice president for Student Affairs at Marymount University were on the panel.
According to Black Psychologist, Robert Val Guthrie, in psychology even the research lab rats were White.
With the mental and emotional needs of Blacks tethered to data, positioning them as “outliers” or consistently abnormal because of their race, finding solutions to issues that include racism and poverty created new challenges within the field, Ellison said. But instead of the field being fitted to an incline based solely on race and gender, Ellison said the battle of the future will be mounting old approaches to new technology.
“Then, like now, it becomes important to approach psychology utilizing the tools of the future: globalization and technology. We have to move out of our comfort zones and begin to craft methodologies and practices, new theories even, that analyze our evaluations for those in China or Germany,” she said. “Globalization and information systems have changed, for instance, the very definition of cognitive development and we must generate new measurements and systems of evaluation.”
The pop-up museum will be housed in the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library on the campus of Howard University through Feb. 23, with continued dialogue on Twitter and Facebook. The program features career highlights of two Howard University psychologists: Mamie Phipps Clark, who worked with her husband, Dr. Kenneth B. Clark, to assist lawyer Thurgood Marshall in his preparation to argue the case Brown v. Topeka Board of Education; and Dr. Carolyn Robinson Payton, the first woman director of the U.S. Peace Corps and director of the university’s Counseling Service from 1970 to 1977.
According to a press release, the second stop on the national tour is Drexel University, in Philadelphia, from Feb. 27 through March 10.