UW Graduate School

September 25, 2019

Michelle (Mimi) Acosta, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology, 1980-1989

Every year in the Department of Psychology, there was one graduate student of color who was charged with supporting students of color within the program. This official departmental position was funded by a fellowship from GO-MAP. I was one of the graduate students who held this position in the 1980’s. 

The support position and resulting community were extremely effective. Students of color in our department never felt like that they were on their own. The tight community of students of color smoothed new ethnic students’ entry into graduate school and the field of psychology.  There were always more advanced students ready to answer questions and provide direction and encouragement to incoming and intermediate-level students. The willingness of more advanced students to advise, inform and socialize with new and mid-level students was a stepping stone to success for so many of us. This position and organization stewarded a network of students of color who became role models for others in navigating academics and finishing our degrees. I am grateful for all the students of color who shared their strengths and encouraged us, teaching us to pass on this legacy of support. 

Among its responsibilities, this network of students of color was also involved in the admissions process, reviewing files of prospective students of color. We provided input to faculty on the department admissions committee. The group of students of color active in the mid-80’s also played a small role in bringing Dr. Ana Mari Cauce (now UW president) to the Department of Psychology as faculty. We were lucky enough to meet and dine with Dr. Cauce when she came to the UW for her initial interviews. I remember my initial impression of Dr. Cause as highly intelligent and quick-witted, with an infectious laugh.

After I graduated, I served as faculty in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, focused on child assessment in the clinic now known as the Center on Human Development and Disability. I also worked in private practice for a number of years, and taught briefly at Antioch University in the master of psychology program.

On a personal note, after joining the Department of Psychology, Dr. Cauce kindly stepped in to take over as my dissertation advisor when my original professor departed. At the end of my dissertation defense, I informed Ana that I would be skipping graduation and would just pick up my diploma from the Registrar. Ana looked at me, and said she understood why I would feel that way, but insisted skipping graduation was something I would regret later. She mentioned that she had not put on doctoral robes for her own graduation, and then made me an offer. Ana said that if I decided to go through graduation, she would also march in her doctoral robes with the faculty. This was something we could celebrate together. I still appreciate the kindness of her awareness and assistance.