Revolutionary Black psychologist honored for changing education and society

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Joseph L. White, Ph.D.

Joseph L. White, Ph.D., named SF State Alumnus of the Year

by Elaine R. Bible

San Francisco – Psychologist and activist Joseph L. White, Ph.D., has been named San Francisco State University’s 2008 Alumnus of the Year. Since studying psychology at SF State in the 1950s, White has revolutionized the way people of color are understood in psychology and has improved diversity on college campuses.

White will receive the Alumnus of the Year award at the University’s 107th Commencement exercises held Saturday, May 24, at 1 p.m. in Cox Stadium on campus.

White is best known for challenging psychologists to understand the unique experiences of ethnic minorities. In 1968, White helped found the Association of Black Psychologists and was among the African American psychologists who demanded reform in the American Psychological Association. White’s seminal article in Ebony magazine in 1970 laid the foundations of Black psychology, a new movement, which introduced Black perspectives into traditional psychological theories and approaches.

“Joseph White has made a fundamental shift in how ethnic minorities are viewed, understood and treated in American psychology,” SF State President Robert A. Corrigan said. “He has worked tirelessly to make college education accessible to students from every walk of life. His dedication and indomitable spirit serve as an inspiration to all of us.”

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During his time at California State University, Long Beach, White helped found the University’s Educational Opportunities Program (EOP), which grew into a statewide program providing supportive pathways for disadvantaged students and students of color. Through assistance with admissions, financial aid, summer programs and mentoring, the program has enabled more than 250,000 low-income students to attend California State University campuses. Through his personal mentoring, White has inspired Black, white, Asian and Latino students to excel in academia.

During the student strike at SF State in 1968, White was influential in establishing the University’s Black Studies Program, the first of its kind at an American four-year college campus. White, who was a psychology professor and dean of undergraduate studies at the time, shaped a curriculum that continues to speak to the needs of people of color today.

“Joseph White is a catalyst for change,” said Kenneth P. Monteiro, dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at SF State. “He is able to rock the boat in both mainstream psychology and Black psychology, a discourse that he continues to shape.”

Born in 1932 in Lincoln, Neb., White moved to San Francisco after high school and had aspirations to become a waiter, but friends encouraged him to enroll at SF State. White graduated in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, followed by a master’s degree in 1958. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and developmental psychology from Michigan State University and graduated at the height of the civil rights movement.

His scholarship and activism brought him into the company of Malcolm X and key members of the Black Panther movement and earned him appointments to work with California Gov. Edmund G. Brown, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.

“I have had amazing opportunities in my career as a teacher, writer and consultant and it all started at SF State,” White said.

White spent much of his career at the University of California, Irvine, where he is professor emeritus of psychology and psychiatry. He currently lives in Irvine.

SF State’s Alumnus of the Year award is given to former students who have gained recognition for significant contributions to their field of work.

Elaine Bible, SF State University Communications, can be reached at