January 2023

Meet Chalmer Thompson

Dr. Chalmer Thompson, Ph.D. is a Professor of Urban Education Studies and the Coordinator for the Counseling/Counselor Education Program at the Indiana University School of Education, Indianapolis. She studies and develops theories about the psychological impacts of racism on people. More specifically, she studies and tries to help promote the ability of people to create the kind of change that is necessary in developing genuine, positive mental health and a more just society. Much of this change can occur when people who are in positions of influence, like counselors/therapists, teachers, and community leaders, are equipped with good theory and respectful and informed guidance.

In her free time, Dr. Thompson enjoys watching good films, especially documentaries, spending time with her partner, who is a former professional actor that also loves/produces documentaries. Additionally, she enjoys spending time with her three adult children, other family members and friends, attending live music concerts, visiting art museums, and traveling domestically and abroad.

Constructively facing racialized violence isn't easy, nor will we always see immediate turnarounds. But the good news is that we have good theory to guide us. Theory forged out of the work of our fiercest combatants and who had a persistent focus on peace and justice.

Dr. Chalmer Thompson

(Top Photo) - Dr. Thompson and her colleagues visiting Gulu, Uganda (Left Photo) - Two of Dr. Thompson's colleagues along with students from the Circle of Peace School in central Uganda (Right Photo) - Dr. James Kagaari on the far left along with other long-term faculty members at Kyambogo University

Q and A with Dr. Chalmer Thompson

I first wanted to become a psychologist when I was an undergraduate student at Howard University. I was invited to join the university hotline, a call-in line where anyone in the Washington, DC area could call in to talk about their problems, receive referrals for mental health issues, and so forth. We didn’t receive a lot of calls, but I was fascinated by the training we received from the university’s counseling center staff, all of whom were psychologists. I previously majored in physics. I maintained my interest in mathematics by making it my minor area, and made the switch to psychology in the second semester of my freshman year.  

Even though it isn’t always apparent, everyone who lives in racist/oppressive societies also bears the burden of toxic societal climates. Intrapsychically, interpersonally, within communities and institutions, and within and across societies, we can’t help but be influenced by the ugliness of oppression because at its core, racism is an affront to the belief of a shared humanity.

What I try to do is examine how we perpetuate and even recreate the pathologies on the one hand, and work to overcome them on the other. My work is mostly theoretical and geared to interpersonal interactions, but has implications on how people negotiate, dismiss, or overcome racism and other intersecting manifestations of societal oppression. My work centers on racialized violence as directed at African-descended people and approaches to peace within and across groups in the U.S. and Uganda.

Activism has always been a significant part of my work. It’s safe to state that for me, not being involved in activism would feel unscholarly. But activism, whether locally or globally, is also messy and requires a great deal of time. I am a Black American woman professor who has worked for years with people who have reason, at least on the surface, to be mistrustful or dismissive of me. Therefore, I consider my greatest impacts: the ability to forge relationships that inspire activism across a variety of boundaries (and I believe that activism is essential to sound mental health); bring greater clarity to racial identity theory by addressing the violence endured by African-descended people historically and in contemporary societies throughout the world; and cultivate scholars and practitioners who study and enfold a liberation psychology approach to their work.

An easy one! My favorite part is seeing the other side after facing the challenges of working through difficult situations inherent in the research. The “other side” is the resolution, the coming-together, and moving-forward-versus-remaining-stuck. I learn so much from conflict. We all do, but in violent societies, conflict conjures up images of fear and invokes avoidance and distancing. When we withstand conflict constructively, we go through the very difficult task of the “working through.” Honestly, the working through is maddening, but the stamina, alternatives-seeking stances, the coming-together of people who are determined to reach the greater good even when it seems like an impossibility, and other approaches lead to outcomes that are our proof that we can beat despair that often comes with conflict. We don’t always pay close enough attention to these outcomes, but they represent the essence of hope and peace.

I have worked for years with students in my research. I have published several journal articles and presented scores of papers with students since I began as an assistant professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1988 and at the University of Southern California, as an associate professor at IU Bloomington and more recently, since 2006 at IUPUI. Much of my collaborative work shifted from students to Ugandan colleagues around 2004. My student research teams consisted of discourse analytic studies of counseling sessions involving different- and same-race dyads, as well as chapters related to local Black activism.

I have been working most recently on a collaboration involving a network of Black mental health professionals and community leaders to develop an interactive channel (akin to a website) with Black and economically dispossessed teenagers and their mothers on trauma/self-care and activism. This channel will be the outgrowth of an ongoing participatory action project. The channel will have a parallel component at a rural Ugandan school.

The website development project is already occurring, but I will be much more involved in it starting in January when my status changes to emerita professor. I look forward to devoting more time to scholar-activist work. I am also working with colleagues on the implications of my theoretical formulations on racialized violence (not racial violence) relative to organizational mobbing (or “workplace bullying”) in academic settings. We believe our set of papers will have important implications for university policy across the nation where this bullying appears to be increasing. I also may write a book on the stories told by people who have endured the very tough challenges of racialized conflict.


Conversation with Dr. Chalmer Thompson

On Friday, January 27, 2023 from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m., Dr. Chalmer Thompson talked about “What Would Our Interactions Look Like If We Were Really Serious About Ending Racism?” Racism is a devastation that exists in communities throughout the world. It thwarts societies from evolving into their potential as socially, economically and politically viable settings in which to live and thrive. Drawing from her work on racialized violence, Dr. Chalmer Thompson addressed how some scholars and practitioners perpetuate forms of systemic violence and she demonstrated how liberation-based psychology can help end oppression.