Their paths to the peaks of their chosen academic fields might have been different, but they all shared a common first step before having completed the arduous climb to the top: a Kalamazoo College education that still informs, inspires and invigorates their work.
Three K graduates—Steph Anderson ’06, Rose Grose and Monisha Berkowski (both members of the class of 2008)—earned doctorate degrees in various specialty fields of psychology recently.
Professor of Psychology Karyn Boatwright taught all of them, and was an inspiration to each. Now, Boatwright says she’s the inspired one.
Steph Anderson well remembers her “eureka moment.” She was a student in Boatwright’s feminist psychology class, a course that was routinely challenging and one that helped her redefine her views on all sorts of issues related to gender and the expression of sexuality.
“I had this moment where it all clicked—‘gender inequality is everywhere,’ I thought,” says Anderson. “K taught me how to think critically, that there were no absolutes in things. It instilled in me an intellectual curiosity. The College challenged my worldview, then let me out into the world to see where I could go.”
A psychology and religion major, she was undecided about graduate-level study of psychology and moved to Quito, Ecuador, after graduation, where she taught English. There she began applying to graduate schools and was accepted at City University of New York. In spring of 2016 Anderson earned a Ph.D. in CUNY’s critical social/personality psychology program. Perhaps not surprisingly, she has been attracted to researching issues surrounding gender inequality and oppression, still riding the wave of that moment of inspiration so many years ago at K.
Her research examines the role of gender expression and race in antigay discrimination, looking at the issue from two perspectives: those who are targets of discrimination (cisgender and transgender LGBQ individuals) and those who may discriminate (straight individuals).
She continues to explore the gendered nature of homophobia, to draw attention to how discrimination against LGBQ people is deeply held within traditional beliefs about how people ought to behave and present themselves to the world in relation to their birth-assigned gender.
In her senior year at K, Anderson helped institute “Women in the Weight Room,” a two-day-a-week time for female-only camaraderie while working out. Some women did not feel safe working out in the oftentimes male-dominated gym, she says.
“It wasn’t without controversy,” she says. “But it showed me the College was all about activism, about seeing an issue and dealing with it.”
Rose Grose wants to talk about sex. And if she had her way, we’d all be talking about it.
“I think there should be compulsory comprehensive and evidence-based sex education,” says Grose. “Human sexuality exists on a broad spectrum, and I think that should be celebrated because sexuality is important to our identities, and relationships make up so much of how we identify ourselves.”
Grose recently earned her Ph.D. in social psychology with an emphasis in feminist studies from the University of California- Santa Cruz, last spring. Her work addresses social justice, gender and sexuality. She is currently working as a postdoctoral research fellow in global health at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia).
For her, the study of human sexuality and how it plays out in society is viewed through the lens of social justice. Injustice based on sexuality is rooted in societal power dynamics and how they play out in the often diverse realms of human sexuality, Grose says. Gender and sexual injustices intersect in complex ways with inequality based on race, ethnicity, class, ability, nationality, and more. The expressions of those power dynamics and how they contribute to the oppression of women, transgender, queer and gender non-conforming members of society is the focus of much of her research.
“Humans are diverse, and we like to put folks in boxes socially,” she says. “When we dehumanize and objectify those different from us, we open the door to violence against marginalized groups.
“Everyone has the ability to decide to treat someone equally. Diversity shouldn’t be viewed as ‘we can all get along,’ but rather that we are distinct and equal. We’re all fully human and deserving of dignity. Healthy and positive sexuality is about these bigger values. There is no way to objectify someone if you acknowledge their full humanity.”
Grose was drawn to K because of the progressive, open-mindedness that permeates so many facets of campus culture. “The encouragement of critical thought—that’s what made my time at K so worthwhile,” she says. “And the people I met there, students and faculty, they were the best part.”
Her study abroad experience working in Kolkata, India, at the All Bengal Women’s Union—an organization that advocates for women’s rights—solidified her passion for gender and sexuality rights justice and equality.
The criminal justice system views a person charged with a crime as someone in need of punitive action and separation from society; Monisha Berkowski may see the same person as an individual with a mental illness in need of support.
That’s not to say that justice should not prevail, but those accused of committing sometimes violent crimes deserve help with psychological issues, assistance which they may not have received prior to becoming involved in the criminal justice system, says Berkowski.
“I’m working with impoverished rural communities from Appalachia, and with poor urban communities from Charlotte and other areas,” she says. “There is a lack of resources, there’s poverty, there’s a lack of access to mental health care. Often, these facts contribute significantly to entanglements with the criminal justice system.”
Berkowski earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 2015 from the University of Detroit-Mercy, after completing a pre-doctoral internship at Broughton Hospital, a state psychiatric facility in Morganton, North Carolina, where she currently works with patients with persistent and severe mental illnesses, some of whom are making their way through the criminal justice system.
It’s easy to see a patient as one-dimensional, she says. She takes a more holistic look at those she’s helping, so they can better understand charges against them and more optimally work with their attorneys.
“How you perceive the patient impacts how you treat that patient,” she says. “I’m often working with patients who have lived on the street. They have experience living in an environment that’s dangerous, where they’ve had to develop certain skills in order to survive. But this might not always be considered when some providers look at a person and conclude, ‘He’s paranoid; He’s aggressive.’ A more empathetic, textured view of someone makes for better treatment.”
Although mental health practitioners are mostly women, positions of power in the profession are still mostly the realm of men, Berkowski says. She is breaking through this glass ceiling, proposing treatment modalities that are rooted in social justice and feminist beliefs in equality for all, directly challenging traditional psychological theories rooted in patriarchy.
“K definitely fostered the idea that you need to look at an issue from many different angles,” she says. “I’m trying to do that in my career. The critical thinking piece is so ingrained at K — to think beyond what you are told.”