Q&A with diversity award winner
Western psychology professor Dr. Joseph Trimble has been announced as the recipient of the 2015-2016 Diversity Achievement Award, alongside Dr. Trula Nicholas of the Woodring College of Education. They will receive their award at the Welcoming Convocation service which opens the 2016-2017 school year.
The Diversity Achievement Award is awarded to a student, faculty or staff member each year to recognize one’s efforts to promote diversity and multicultural awareness at Western. They can be nominated by students or staff who turn in nomination letters to the Equal Opportunity Office, according to the office’s website.
During his time teaching at Western, Trimble has also remained active in native communities in Washington and Alaska, focusing on drug and alcohol abuse prevention. He has held positions in the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology and American Psychological Association, as well as many others.
How did you find out about winning the Diversity Achievement Award at Western? How did you feel when you found out?
I received the letter several weeks ago from the president [Bruce Shepard] announcing that I was one of the two recipients of the award for 2016. I was stunned, actually overwhelmed, flattered and deeply honored that I was nominated and that a committee selected me, probably from a number of applicants.
You’ve been working at Western Washington University since 1979?
Well, there really wasn’t really a position [for me at the time.] I was a research scientist at the Battelle Memorial Institute [Human Affairs Research Centers] in Seattle. I left academia to go into the research world, but after about a year or so, I decided I didn’t belong. I enjoyed what I was doing, but I missed the students. I missed the classroom and I wanted to get back. So I started calling around different people. I called a colleague of mine here who said we don’t have a job opening but if something comes up we’ll let you know. A week later I get a phone call [saying] “We have an opening, would you be interested?” and I said yes. So, I drove up first trip to Bellingham and thought, “Wow, this is a nice place.” I was offered a contract, and here I am.
You focus a lot of your studying and your teaching on Native American Cross Cultural Psychology. How did your interest start to develop into that?
That’s a long story, but I always knew I wanted to go into psychology. I don’t know why I knew that. There wasn’t a book that I read, there wasn’t a particular person that encouraged me to do that. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to go into the field of psychology and I wanted to be an educator. I don’t know where that came from, but it was there.
I felt that… psychology wasn’t really talking about native people; maybe in an anthropology setting it was, but psychology wasn’t. More than that, psychology wasn’t really giving attention to culture and how it influences who we are as people. It was very ethnocentric and almost racist. Well, it was racist.
After I left Harvard and I went to Oklahoma and decided to start exploring ways to include native people and their concerns and their problems in the conversation about what psychology was, is, and started corresponding with people. I would meet people at conventions and we would talk about ‘what can we do.’
So, I got heavily involved in the American Psychological Association and bringing about change in that arena. I started teaching classes and putting the cultural variable into classes and it just snowballed.
How do you feel about multicultural psychology today?
Fifteen years ago I didn’t know where it was going to be. I had hopes that it would be where it is today but we still have a long way to go. There are still pockets of resistance but nowhere near what there were 15-20 years ago.
How has your career unfolded as you’ve been here at Western?
It’s been amazing. Everyday is a new day; a new day of learning something new, reading something new and helping somebody someplace with their research and careers and it’s just so exciting to see all of this happening all around me and I feel blessed and honored to be a part of that.
Do you work with the Native American communities in Washington?
Yes, I have. I’m not as actively involved as I was years and years ago. I was very actively involved in developing alcohol and drug abuse prevention; programs targeted for native youth. We worked on that for years and years and it was very draining emotionally and challenging.
I still have very strong contacts in the native communities in this nation, especially out at Lummi and down at Tulalip and a few other communities over on the peninsula.
You’ve offered a lot of praise for Western’s interest and advocacy of ethnocultural themes in psychology. Do you see any areas where we, as a university could improve?
Oh, yeah. I think what happened last November is a classic example (editor’s note: this is in reference to threats made over the social media Yik Yak). It’s certainly aroused a lot of concern in our department collectively. What can we do to promote diversity? What can we do to be more culturally sensitive to the different cultural backgrounds of our students, in the classroom and out of the classroom?
I think that we’re headed in that direction of being very proactive and I’m really proud of the efforts we’re taking although we still have a long way to go. But I’m not alone in my thoughts on that. But I respect and therefore highly value the direction that the university is heading in this area. I have not been presented in any difficulties about my interests and concerns. I’m not a radical, so I approach it from an academic and a personal perspective and I’ve been supported all the way. I feel blessed that I am here for that reason.