Psychology department expands scope of class offerings

Grace Fassio, Staff Reporter

The Psychology Department has added two new classes this fall: Introduction to Black Psychology and Health and Wellness. This was done to further diversify their curriculum. Both classes are taught by the Associate Dean of Health and Wellness and the Director of the Counseling Center, Dr. Rae Chresfield.

Introduction to Black Psychology focuses on the “psychological development of people of African descent as experienced in the U.S,” according to the 2019-2020 Course Catalog. This course ties in with the psychology department’s goals of addressing issues related to different social identity groups by highlighting the experiences of Black people within the United States.

The 2019-2020 Course Catalog describes the Health and Wellness class as helping students “understand the need for maintaining a healthy lifestyle across the lifespan.” According to the Head of the Psychology Department Erin Pahlke, this course rounds out the department’s offerings for students interested in clinical health and psychology related careers and those interested in maintaining their personal health after Whitman. 

Both of these classes are capped at 20 people to allow for more discussion due to the relevance and depth of the topics being covered.

Sophomore Nomode Nyathi is enrolled in Introduction to Black Psychology and believes this class is extremely valuable as it facilitates hard but necessary conversations about race. She suggested that classes like this should be mandatory because they put people in uncomfortable situations and force them to have conversations about it. She believes that the people who are uncomfortable with these topics are often the ones who need to hear it the most.

“I like the fact that it’s a safe space for everyone to speak their minds and that people in the class feel comfortable enough to participate,” Nyathi said.

It was important to Chresfield that she was able to build a space for this open dialogue about issues of race and health in these new classes. Her favorite part about teaching this material is the different connections the students make to their personal lives and other classes. 

“I really enjoy when students make new information their own and then extrapolate it into different spaces and across different classes.” Chresfield said.

Pahlke is very excited about this opportunity to further diversify the curriculum with these classes. She stressed how thrilled the Psychology Department is about the growing interest across campus for classes addressing race and health, especially due to the strong connection they have with this year’s academic theme of “Race, Violence and Health.”

“It seemed like it was just meant to be for Dr. Chresfield to teach these classes,” Pahlke said “Frankly though, at any moment in time, these are classes that should be offered and that folks should be thinking about.”

Originally, Chresfield was unsure how interested students would be in the subject matter, especially Black Psychology. Yet both classes quickly filled and even had people on the waitlist to get in. Chresfield hopes that this interest for classes discussing race and health will continue to grow across campus as students learn how applicable the content is.

“The content is relevant to all students,” Dr. Chresfield said, “The subject matter is challenging but I really work at making it a space where all students have a voice and have room to learn as much as possible in the process.”

Nyathi highly recommends taking Introduction to Black Psychology in part due to the wide range of topics that they are studying.

“Not only am I learning about history [of the experience of African American people within the U.S.] but I’m also learning about the psychological concepts that come with it,” Nyathi said. “So it’s like a two for one deal.”

According to Pahlke, the psychology department is committed to offering classes that address issues of race and health as often as possible. While Health and Wellness will only be offered this semester, Chresfield has already agreed to teach Introduction to Black Psychology again in the spring. 

“Every opportunity that I get to teach a Black psychology class or a health and wellness class, I will,” Chresfield said.