Debra Hope has been appointed as Dean of Graduate Studies following a career of over thirty years spent contributing to the psychology department and various inclusion efforts throughout the community.
Raised in an Eastern Oregon town of 364 people, Hope said she left behind her rural roots to study psychology at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon as a first-generation student. She said she later received her doctorate degree from the University at Albany and completed an internship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, earning her the title of a clinical psychologist.
“I didn’t know much about college, let alone graduate school, but I had a mentor who was kind, saw potential in me, and knew that I didn’t know what I was doing,” Hope said. “I really credit her with helping me get to graduate school.”
After receiving her doctorate degree, Hope said she took her first education position as an assistant professor at UNL in 1990.
“I never really imagined living in Nebraska, but I came here and the psychology department and the community was great,” Hope said. “I’ve been really happy here.”
In her first years at UNL, Hope’s career and research revolved around the assessment and treatment of anxiety-related problems, especially social anxiety. Her interests and research later evolved to include LGBTQ health disparities, according to Hope.
“People in the broadly defined queer community often did not get the best kind of mental health resources that they might need and they were often very stigmatized in those services, so we started moving the research in that direction,” Hope said.
In 2014, Hope co-founded Trans Collaborations, a partnership between transgender or gender-diverse people and researchers. The organization primarily focuses on adults in transgender and gender-diverse communities and the health disparities that they experience, Hope said.
“Something that informs the work I do is my identity as part of the queer community,” Hope said. “Seeing the world through multiple identities, both of marginalized and privileged ones, is part of who I am.”
Richard Mocarski, associate vice president of research at San José State University, said he worked with Hope to create Trans Collaborations.
“[Hope]’s a psychologist, so she’s a heck of a listener. She is very open to everything,” Mocarski said. “It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, she sees the expertise and value in you. That goes for everyone, from people like me in academic disciplines, to her students, to our community members.”
Hope said she has dedicated many of her efforts at UNL to helping students feel welcomed. She was the first Inclusive Excellence Chair for the psychology department, a position that was created to work on structural inequities and to rethink how processes could affect people from a variety of underrepresented groups, Hope said.
“Because of my background as a first-generation student, of often being in situations where I wasn’t sure if I belonged or fit in,” Hope said. “I sort of understood that you couldn’t just assume everybody needed the same things or that spaces and procedures were welcoming to everybody.”
Hope said she is excited to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, as well as taking the initiative to work towards bettering graduate education in those areas.
“I feel like the issue for our time and in higher education is to rethink the way we do things and to make our spaces more appropriate and more welcoming, especially in graduate studies as we think about training the future leaders in academia and in the country,” Hope said. “I hope that in six months or a year that there are graduate students on campus that can say something is working better because of changes that have been made at the office of graduate studies.”