Mental Health

March 17, 2022

Psychiatry lecture honors first Black resident physician

The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences recently hosted the fourth annual Harold Jordan Diversity and Inclusion lecture, hosted by guest lecturer Robert Sellers, PhD.


by Emily Stembridge

Robert Sellers, PhD

The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences recently hosted the fourth annual Harold Jordan Diversity and Inclusion Lecture, hosted by guest lecturer Robert Sellers, PhD, vice provost for equity and inclusion, chief diversity officer and Charles D. Moody Collegiate professor of Psychology and Education at the University of Michigan.

The annual lecture honors Jordan, Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s first Black resident physician, who held a clinical appointment at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine from 1964 to 2016.

Jordan’s numerous achievements also include appointments as chair of Psychiatry at Meharry Medical College, dean of Meharry’s School of Medicine and commissioner of Mental Health and Mental Retardation for the state of Tennessee.

The lecture opened with the presentation of the Dr. Harold Jordan Diversity and Inclusion Award. This year’s recipient was Barrington Hwang, MD, a third-year psychiatry resident.

Hwang was recognized for his dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, which include his role as a senior media editor for the American Journal of Psychiatry’s Residents’ Journal, where he helped develop podcasts about the importance of culturally informed mental health care. Hwang has also published work on the ways climate change disproportionately affects minority populations.

Following the award presentation, Mary Elizabeth Wood, PhD, introduced Sellers, who completed his undergraduate training at Howard University and his doctorate degree in personality psychology at the University of Michigan.

“After reading about Dr. Jordan, I am particularly glad to be here,” Sellers said. “I’m deeply honored to even play a small part in the recognition of Dr. Jordan’s tremendous accomplishments.”

In his lecture, Sellers spoke about his personal experience with race and racism, the role of race in the lives of African Americans and the ways he has worked to make the University of Michigan a more diverse, equitable and inclusive space.

“One of the things that I experienced as a graduate student in psychology in the early 1980s was that when I looked at the mainstream psychology literature, African Americans were absent,” Sellers said. “When they were included, they were either examples of what happens to a stigmatized group or as stimuli to impact attitudes or behaviors of white people in experiments. The richness and fullness of the experience of what it means to be African American was not captured.”

Sellers explained that because of this, he and his colleagues worked to develop a model that was consistent with what they knew to be true about the experiences of African Americans — recognizing the humanity of being African American while also acknowledging the diversity between individual African Americans and the different experiences they face.

The model Sellers developed has since become foundational to the understanding of the role of race in the lives of African Americans.

“This model defined racial identity as the attitudes and beliefs that individuals hold regarding the significance of race,” Sellers said. “There’s variation, there’s strength, and that strength has resulted in generally normative development across the African American community.”

Sellers closed the lecture by discussing the work he has spearheaded at the University of Michigan over the last five years to implement a strategic DEI plan. Rather than one plan for the entire institution, he has worked with every administrative unit on campus to develop 51 individual plans for DEI across every area of campus.

“We’re moving towards a more equitable future,” Sellers said. “We’re not there yet, but I have hope that we’re moving toward making this work the standard in the future.”