Carolyn West, Associate Professor of Psychology, has been selected as the 2013 Distinguished Teacher of the Year, an award given annually to one of UWT’s exceptional professors.
“[Dr.West] has been a leader in her department in developing the psychology curriculum and making psychology a major,” said Janice Laakso, Chair of the Distinguished Teaching Award Committee, “and [ she has] shown unquestionable integration of her scholarship into the classroom, in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault.”
West has been teaching at the university since 1997, and has developed a substantial portion of the psychology curriculum. She is an expert in the subjects of sexual assault and domestic violence, issues on which she has authored dozens of scholarly articles, as well as an award winning book titled “Violence in the Lives of Black Women: Battered, Black, and Blue.”
West received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Missouri, St. Louis in 1994, and after practicing for awhile, she decided that she would rather teach.
“I like working more with students than clients,” she said. “I learn as much from them as they learn from me.”
West hopes to help students develop their own voices, as well as a passion for issues dealing with sexual assault and domestic violence, so that they can potentially carry on the work she has started.
“The goal is to make students outraged about some stuff, and then go change it,” she said.
Teaching classes such as Human Sexuality or Family Violence can be challenging, as students often feel awkward discussing the topics. To help students feel comfortable, West has developed several activities that will give them hands on experience with the material being taught. A box in her office holds items such as a fake hand gun and an empty liquor bottle: props for a mock rape trial that, once performed by the class, will help students understand drug facilitated sexual assault.
West’s teaching methods and research have not only allowed students to become more open to different lifestyles and aware of pressing social issues, but have also inspired some of her students to start volunteering at different social agencies in the area such as Pierce County AIDS Foundation.
By talking about such personal topics, West has really gotten to know many of her students. She strives to be a safe person that people can talk to about anything.
“So many people have unanswered questions about [these] topics,” West said.
West’s interest in human sexuality was inspired by a professor who took her on as a student helper when she was an undergraduate. When West got her Master’s, the professor allowed her to teach the class on human sexuality. During that time she also worked as a sex educator for Planned Parenthood.
She was inspired to focus on the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault after age 12 when she used her adult library card for the first time: to check out a book on domestic violence. She went on to do her Master’s dissertation on the topic, as well as an extensive collection of scholarly work. West’s current research is on the hyper sexualization of young women of color in rap music and pornography.
When West is not teaching or researching, she likes to try things that scare her: last year she learned to sky dive, which actually inspired some students to face their own fears, and try sky diving as well.