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Eastern professors contribute to book on Women of Color in Psychology

Published on February 13, 2023

Eastern professors contribute to book on Women of Color in Psychology

Psychologist Felicisima (Ping) Serafica
Psychologist Felicisima (Ping) Serafica

Two Eastern Connecticut State University professors of psychology contributed to an upcoming book, “Early Psychological Research Contributions from Women of Color, Volume 1,” being published by Routledge. The text, which highlights 20 different women of color who served as pioneers of psychology, explores the contributions that are often erased and whitewashed from historical psychology education.

Professors T. Caitlin Vasquez-O’Brien and Luis Cordon’s chapter focused on Felicisima (Ping) Serafica, a front-runner in attachment theory focused on the mother-infant bond, an advocate for Asian American students, and the first Filipina American tenured psychology professor. 

Vasquez-O’Brien found the book opportunity via the Society for Teaching of Psychology (STP), an online board for psychologists to share tips, and at times, authoring prospects. Cordon, who is referred to as “the resident in the history of psychology,” was pulled in to collaborate on the chapter about Serafica. The two Eastern professors co-authored the chapter with colleague Elizabeth Rellinger Zettler, a psychologist at Illinois College and colleague of Cordon’s since graduate school.

Professor T. Caitlin Vasquez-O'Brien
Professor of psychology T. Caitlin Vasquez-O'Brien

Ping, as she was called personally and professionally, spent most of her career at Ohio State University, after moving from the Philippines for college. “She started off in psychology with her dissertation on attachment (the emotional bond between a parent and child). Attachment research in 1973 was in its infancy and she was really working in the dark,” explained Vasquez-O’Brien. “Despite that, she managed to find some important things; namely that the mother-infant attachment was just one example of a relationship and that what we learned from it could be applied to other relationships we would later have.”

While Ping published her work, it wasn’t widely acknowledged, and the field of psychology took a decade to circle back to the ideas she studied so thoroughly. It’s erasure such as this, said Vasquez-O’Brien, that makes recognition today so important. “Traditionally, textbooks and instructors have presented the history of psychology (the history of science really) as being dominated by white men – Sigmund Freud, William James, Ivan Pavlov, Albert Bandura, B.F. Skinner, Carl Rogers, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, Abraham Maslow, to name a few – if you take General Psych (PSY 100), you probably come away learning these names. These men did important things that advanced the field, without a doubt, but too often the credit and focus has been disproportionately placed with these figures.”

Professor of psychology Luis Cordon.
Professor of psychology Luis Cordon

Ping shifted her career goals and field of research entirely later on, though it is not known why. “In her later years, she advocated for Asian American students, and gender and ethnic diversity,” said Vasquez-O’Brien. “She was behind the creation of the ethnic studies program at Ohio State, and she researched ethnicity and culture in relation to well-being and psychopathology.” Ping also spoke publicly about her experiences with racism and discrimination, both in general and within the field of psychology.

Vasquez-O’Brien said that this erasure is why books such as “Early Psychological Research Contributions from Women of Color, Volume 1,” are so important. “Books like this one are needed to recognize the history of our field. This book includes just 20 women of color, and each chapter is written to be understood and used in an undergraduate psychology class. We hope that educators will use this book to present a more fair and balanced history of our field – recognizing the important contributions by women of color.”

Telling the true history behind today’s psychological findings is prioritized at Eastern, Vasquez-O’Brien explained. “I’m very lucky to teach here at Eastern, where the faculty recognizes the importance of topics such as race and gender. In the psychology major, we have many classes that include discussions of race, gender and intersectionality.” She explained the importance of “decolonizing” a syllabus, the act of “ensuring that we are learning from and learning about diverse voices, because I recognize that we learn the most when we hear from all voices and perspectives.”

Written by Molly Boucher