BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji State Psychology Department recently received a one-year, $9,981 Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Educational Innovations Grant to launch a scholarship program for Indigenous students studying psychology.

With a pilot cohort of six students, the Indigenous Students in Psychology Training (InPsyT, pronounced like “insight”) program will prepare American Indian students for careers in psychology through mentorships with Indigenous psychologists and mental health professionals.

In addition to receiving a $500 scholarship, cohort members will explore psychology and behavioral health topics as they pertain to American Indian populations, receive training on Indigenous research methodologies, receive graduate school resources and attend the annual Society of Indian Psychologists conference.

Shelene Head, a junior psychology student from Bemidji, shared in a release about the support she receives from the professors in the InPsyT program.

“It’s really empowering having that support system,” Head said. “I feel that I can accomplish so much more now within this area of expertise with them working with me.”

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Whitney Spears, a senior double majoring in psychology and indigenous sustainability, echoed Head’s statements.

“Having the support of the faculty in this program is really helpful, especially as a first-generation student,” Spears said.

Psychology events

This fall, the cohort’s activities will include bi-weekly luncheons with psychology faculty and feature campus-wide lectures with American Indian professionals in psychology.

The first event of the program’s speaker series welcomed Joseph Gone, a professor at Harvard University, on Wednesday, Sept. 15, as he delivered a Zoom lecture, “American Indian Historical Trauma: Retrospects and Prospects.”

With around 20 people attending in person in Hagg-Sauer and about 100 viewing the webinar on Zoom, Gone detailed the current research being conducted on historical trauma and its impact on Native American populations. Specific topics included oppression, what defines historical trauma, health disparities and prospects of reparations.

Bemidji State students listen to a webinar on American Indian historical trauma on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in BSU’s Hagg-Sauer Hall. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji State students listen to a webinar on American Indian historical trauma on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in BSU’s Hagg-Sauer Hall. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

With regards to "historical trauma" being coined as a term in the early 1990's, Gone mentioned that another term, "soul wound," was coined by psychologist Eduardo Duran.

"While these two terms were both close in definition at the time, it's 'historical trauma' that really stuck," Gone said during the presentation.

He also discussed "AlterNative Indigenous Psy-ence," as a method for reframing modern health practices that take historical trauma into account, but emphasized that not all Indigenous people experience trauma the same way.

"Indigenous historical trauma implies that all of us are historically traumatized if you're Indigenous, but it's not really taking careful track of the different histories we have," Gone said in reference to Indigenous diversity.

After the presentation, audience members could ask Gone questions before the event concluded.

Mentorship opportunities

Along with these speaker events, Sarah Cronin, InPsyT co-founder and assistant professor of psychology, explained that the mentor opportunities for InPsyT students will allow Bemidji State to expand its impact on the psychologists of the future.

“The professional networking and learning that can occur with those opportunities can be a great inspiration for InPsyT students and their budding careers in psychology,” Cronin said in the release. “Programs like this can provide culturally relevant training that is too often omitted from psychology training programs and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve BSU in its mission to become a destination university for Native American students.”

Program co-founder and psychology professor John Gonzalez said the InPsyT program will not only benefit Indigenous students but will also provide the opportunity to give back to the next generation of American Indian psychologists.

“I feel like I am coming full circle in my career having started here at BSU as a psychology major,” Gonzalez said in the release. ”I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish so many things in my career without others supporting me and providing me with guidance, mentorship and opportunities. It is a real honor to have this chance to give back in this way.”

Cohort members must be a declared psychology major, have a minimum 3.0 GPA, and be an enrolled member or descendent of an American Indian tribe. The inaugural group of InPsyT students for the 2021-2022 school year includes Shalene Head, Raeanne Henry, Brittany Lavelle, Kameron Saxon, Whitney Spears and Ashly Spry.

Though the grant funds a single InPsyT cohort, Gonzalez, Cronin and co-founder Angela Fournier anticipate securing additional funding to continue the program.