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Dr. Sophia Duffy, associate professor of psychology, is the recipient of Dominican University’s 2024 Black Excellence Award, presented by the Center for Cultural Liberation.

This award, now in its second year, recognizes a faculty member, staff member or community partner who has demonstrated excellence in scholarship and community service, while elevating inclusion and access to education and resources for Black and African American students at Dominican.

Duffy is a Black Caribbean American daughter of Belizean immigrants. As a professor of psychology, her focus area is on the study of historical and intergenerational complex trauma and creating healing communities. 

Duffy answered several questions related to this special honor and her work in psychology.

Q: What does receiving this award mean to you?

Dr. Duffy: This award is especially meaningful to me because it is from the students and my colleagues. I am particularly honored to be recognized by students; they bring me such joy. And I am especially committed to ensuring that we create healing and empowering relationships and environments where they can not just survive but thrive. I have had a pretty rough year and honestly, this award is light and hope in a challenging time. This award has brought joy to my soul. 

Q: What does excellence look like to you and how do you help your students achieve it?

Dr. Duffy: Excellence is anything you do to work towards liberation, freedom and joy for humanity. Excellence is honoring the voice inside you that says keep going. Excellence is when you reflect on how you have shown up in the world, how you have helped others, how you have cared for yourself—and you are filled with fullness and pride. So, it is different for everyone. I hope that I help students achieve excellence by encouraging them to look inward and see that excellence is there and has always been there. 

Q: How did you discover your path to psychology?

Dr. Duffy: When I was in high school, I was a peer counselor and I really enjoyed listening to and helping others think through feelings, problems and thoughts. When I graduated, I served for two years as a special education teacher via Teach for America. I observed the exceptional need for mental health services and trauma-informed care (in and outside of school) for historically excluded and oppressed communities of color. I knew that I wanted to make a difference for this particular community, so I returned to my love of counseling and enrolled in a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology. 

Through my research, professorship and clinical work, I have remained dedicated to improving the lives of Black, Indigenous and POC communities by changing systems and working to heal from historical, intergenerational and oppressive trauma. 

Q: What is being done—and what more can be done—to encourage more Black and African American students to pursue psychology?

Dr. Duffy: The lack of Black people in the field of psychology, particularly at the doctoral level, is intentional, systemic exclusion. So, to address this, we need to identify and address the processes and systems that exclude and discourage Black people from pursuing higher education. Moreover, graduate programs need to do a better job of eliminating institutional racism, providing effective support, and ensuring excellent mentoring. Recruitment, retention, graduation and licensing all go hand-in-hand. More Black psychologists are critical for the advancement of the field in psychology to be decolonized and appropriately serve Black communities/individuals and eliminate mental health disparities. There needs to be better understanding of the lived experiences of Black people and how that intersects with wellness. There is a current lack of historically-informed, trauma-informed, culturally grounded care that truly promotes wellness.   

Q: You have been credited with pushing the university to make anti-racist and trauma informed approaches the center of all work that is done. How are you doing this?

Dr. Duffy: I have begun with myself. My teaching is a way to build relationships with students and create space and community focused on care. Learning happens second or third. I believe we have to understand history in order to understand what our students need to thrive. I take great care to not cause harm or retraumatize by maintaining oppressive systems. I do this through class policy, climate and myself.

My sabbatical (this year) is focused on creating a program to train faculty in equity-based, trauma informed pedagogy. I am working on another project that will create student communities that utilize radical healing framework to promote wellness and belongingness for our students. But mostly I intend to lead by example.