The Department of Psychology at Jackson State University initially grew out of the Department of Education in 1968. It was finally reorganized and renamed in September of 1971. The Department of Psychology is a unit of the School of Social and Behavioral Science in the College of Liberal Arts; it is home to 450 undergraduates and 43 graduate students.
The Department of Psychology is committed to enhancing knowledge of psychological principles and practices through scholarship, research, undergraduate service-learning, and graduate clinical training. In addition, the faculty are committed to promoting the discipline of Psychology through professional service at the national and local levels. The Department has 14 faculty members, all of whom have diverse training and research interests.
Jackson State University first received American Psychological Association accreditation for its Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program in 2001, but its history stretches back to 1877 and includes a rich heritage as a coeducational historically black institution. Founded in Natchez, Mississippi as a seminary to educate ministers and teachers, the original goals of the school encompassed expanding the opportunities for freed American Negroes living in the Deep South through moral, intellectual, and religious education, thus providing its graduates with the ability to serve society and become leaders within their communities. This grounding vision has shaped each step of JSU’s development, from its early move to the city of Jackson through its evolution into being far more than a teacher’s college. These principles impacted how psychology came to be taught at the institution and spurred its search for continued excellence through expansion into graduate programs.
By the time JSU officially gained university status from Mississippi’s state legislature in 1979, the Department of Psychology’s primary focus on research made its move to the School of Liberal Arts a natural transition. Then, Dr. Janet St. Lawrence, a faculty member and clinical psychologist at JSU, began to investigate HIV and STD issues in vulnerable populations during the advent of the AIDS epidemic. Out of this work with those in drug treatment, people contending with incarceration, or people from other at-risk groups, came the genesis of the Community Health Program (CHP). This program became the foremost research division within the Psychology Department and works to provide community service while training students and conducting original studies, which gain national attention. Additionally, during this time period, Dr. Cynthia Ford designed a course to teach psychology from an afro-centric perspective. This type of enhancement to the curriculum highlights JSU’s focus on both cultural and individual diversity and remains a popular elective in the discipline.
After years of preparing undergraduates to pursue advanced research degrees, JSU began to develop its own plan for graduate study. Spearheading this movement was a working group whose goal was to design a program in clinical psychology that would provide multicultural training. The idea behind such multiculturalism is that the most effective clinical psychologists are those who have separated themselves from their personal biases and that this can only occur through in depth understanding of other cultures. In 1995, program was launched with a charter class of five students. APA accreditation then followed in 2001, and the first dissertation defense occurred in 2002. The concept of multicultural training remains a primary mission and requires the program actively to support those from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds while ensuring that even the most traditional of graduate students becomes immersed in as many different environments as possible. This occurs most directly through practica, externships, and field research experience with underserved people; in the area of Jackson, this most often means rural and African-American populations.