Dr. Carolyn West — psychology professor and Student, Behavioral and Human Services division chair — is an inspiration to many, and a student-favorite on campus. With courses such as Human Sexuality and Sex Crimes and Sexual Violence, this chairwoman teachers some of the most intriguing and life applicable classes that students can take here at UW Tacoma. While she stays busy, Dr. West sat down with The Ledger to talk about how she became interested in psychology and some other facts that you may not know about her.
WHAT IS YOUR AREA OF EXPERTISE?
I am a clinical psychologist with an area of expertise is domestic violence and sexual assault.
WHERE DID YOU ATTEND COLLEGE AS AN UNDERGRAD AND WHERE DID YOU ATTEND GRADUATE SCHOOL?
I got my bachelor’s in psychology and master’s in clinical psychology from the University of Missouri in St. Louis. I did my predoctoral internship at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. I finished up my Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and after, I did a teaching in a clinical postdoctoral in Illinois State University and did a second postdoctoral at the University of New Hampshire.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN PSYCHOLOGY?
How I got to where I am at now is probably by the first book that I checked out in the eighth grade, and it was a book on domestic violence. When I turned 12, I got my first adult library card, and the first book I checked out was called “Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear” [by Erin Pizzey], and it was one of the first early research books on domestic violence. From there, I got super interested in the topic, and I read about it in the New World Encyclopedia, which was an entry to psychology.
SO YOU NEVER CHANGED YOUR MAJOR? YOU ALWAYS KNEW YOU WOULD STUDY IN PSYCHOLOGY?
I always knew it was going to be psychology. However, I thought I was going to be like a clinician and practice and talk to people, but I got into graduate school and learned I didn’t really like that. So I started teaching, and I knew that that was where I needed to be.
DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A PROFESSOR WHEN YOU STARTED GRADUATE SCHOOL?
I think so. Once I started teaching, as a graduate teaching assistant, that’s when I knew at that point I wanted to teach. I really like teaching and research more than clinical work.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT TEACHING HERE AT UWT?
When I saw the ad like 21 years ago, it was like the ad was specifically written for me. It (sic) wasn’t a psychology program when I came here, so it was an opportunity to build something from
nothing. There were a couple classes, and it gave me a chance to develop courses that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to teach that are uniquely mine, such as my Family Violence course. I love that students are immersive in these classes and are actually doing stuff — and that is more fun.
DO YOU THINK TV BEAUTIFIES OR NORMALIZES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
With TV, I don’t think that people get the full impact of what it is and what it does to people. I think there’s still a lot of stereotypes around what domestic violence is, and that’s why I conduct [the] activity Walk in her Shoes [where students walk in the shoes of a domestic abuse victim and must figure a way to get out of the relationship] — so students can see more critically about how and why victims get out of a domestic violence situation. It’s all about providing empathy.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT BEING A PROFESSOR?
I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it because so much of it is positive, obviously I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I always say teaching sort of chose me in some ways, and this is what I was sort of built to do. I guess there’s sad parts, like when I see potential in students and you want them to succeed, but in some ways, you can’t want more for people than they want for themselves. Teaching just is one of those things you can’t really complain about because I love what I do. It just doesn’t get better than that!
OUTSIDE OF TEACHING, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR HOBBIES?
I like skydiving, but I don’t jump out of planes much anymore. I like to travel a lot, and a lot of outdoor activities, particularly just being in the outdoor world. This summer, I was in Alaska just hiking around, and [Washington] is the best place to be in the outdoors to do those kinds of things. My work is my hobby, and writing and publishing are hobbies as well.
WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER UNDERGRAD STUDENTS HERE AT UWT?
I would say get to know faculty members so you’re building a network so that when it’s time for graduate school and letters of recommendation are needed, you have people who you know here. Students need to know that participation matters, even if you are afraid to contribute to class discussion. Being present helps in getting connections, so it’s all about relationships and networking. Also, follow your dreams and remember that success leaves footprints.
Fun Facts About Professor Carolyn West:
• Dr. West has over 60 published works.
•She likes to jump out of a “perfectly good plane” and her skydiving video is on her website: drcarolynwest.com
•One summer, she hiked four canyons in the South West.
•She went to visit eight concentration camps in three weeks to study the Holocaust.
•She also works on domestic homicide cases as an advocate to women who killed their perpetrators.
Correction: A previous version of this article listed the above fun facts section as being about Ellen Bayer. They are about Carolyn West.