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The research of Inez Beverly Prosser

Reflecting on the psychology A-level syllabus many of the psychologists studied by students are white men, the syllabus includes thirty-six psychologists, four of whom are women and non-white. Some psychologists had their daughters continue their research including Aaron Beck, Wilhelm Wundt and Sigmund Freud. However, there are many brilliant non-white female psychologists that have not been mentioned in the syllabus who have contributed so much to the study of psychology. In this article, I will be discussing the amazing work of Inez Beverly Prosser.

Inez Beverly Prosser was a psychologist in the early 20th century and centred her research on educational psychology and the effects of racism. She was also the first African American woman to receive a PhD in psychology in the United States. Being the oldest of eleven children Prosser started an educational fund to help her siblings’ complete high school and attend college, all of her siblings graduated high school and five received college degrees.

Despite being subject to sexism and racism on her academic journey, Prosser graduated top of her class in high school and graduated college with a teaching certificate. She then focused on receiving her master’s degree whilst she was still teaching. However, to obtain her master’s degree she had to attend the University of Colorado as the state of Texas did not award graduate degrees to African American’s at the time.

After graduating she took a teaching position at Tillotson College in Austin, this not only allowed her to expand her teaching abilities but also helped her to immerse herself further into her greatest interest and passion, the psychological and educational development of all African-American students. She then transferred to a college in Mississippi where she took on the roles of dean, registrar and faculty member. Following that, she received a grant allowing her to carry out doctoral research in teacher education. When enrolling herself shortly after in 1930 at the University of Cincinnati she made history in 1933 being the first African-American woman to receive a PhD in psychology.

Her contribution to psychology included evaluating the impacts of racial inequality on the mental health of African-American children, believing that integration could have damaging effects on the self-esteem of African-American children. However, she believed that segregated schools provided supportive and nurturing environments. Prosser argued that the feelings of isolation and low socioeconomic status in African-American children were due to the intense inequality they suffered and that their futures were limited in terms of academia. Although, Prosser did state that certain personality types may thrive and flourish in integrated schools. Inez Beverly Prosser’s influence rippled through many fields, as her arguments were recognised during the debate over school segregation in the 1920s. During the time period when Prosser made her impact, opportunities for women, especially African-American female academics, were rare and Prosser was a critical voice for the community. Her contribution can still be seen in many policies being used today.

Here are a few other incredibly influential non-white female psychologists whom I would definitely recommend reading about:

  • Martha Bernal

  • Mamie Phipps Clark

  • Reiko True

  • Jennifer Eberhardt

By Florence

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