LSOE's Helms Is Appointed to Augustus Long Chair
By Reid Oslin
Prof. Janet E. Helms (LSOE), founding director of Boston College's Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture and a leading research psychologist in the field of racial identity and understanding, has been appointed holder of the University's Augustus Long Chair.
Helms has written numerous books and journal articles on racial identity and cultural influences on assessment and counseling practice. She is a fellow in the American Psychological Association counseling psychology and ethnic diversity divisions as well as a representative to the APA Council, the group's governing body.
The institute she founded at BC in 2000 explores the strengths and concerns of racial and ethnic communities through research on issues such as the degree of racial bias in standardized testing. The institute also sponsors an annual "Diversity Challenge," a University-wide conference that brings together experts from across the nation to discuss the key issues of race and culture in American society.
"Janet Helms has done groundbreaking work on understanding racial identity in a developmental way and has done landmark psychological research on that issue," said Lynch School Interim Dean Rev. Joseph M. O'Keefe, SJ. "Her expertise as a psychologist and how people understand themselves racially is very important research and she clearly is the world's leader in that field.
"Endowed chairs recognize that type of excellence," Fr. O'Keefe said.
The Long Chair is named in honor of Augustus Long, a former president, chairman and CEO of the Texaco Corp., who received an honorary degree from Boston College in 1957. Long died in 2001 at age 97.
The Long endowment was initially funded in 1962 with a gift to the University from an anonymous donor through the Brookdale Foundation. The professorship was activated in 2002, and Prof. Alfred Beaton (LSOE), an expert in educational testing, was named the inaugural holder. Beaton retired from the University at the end of the 2003-04 academic year.
Fr. O'Keefe said the institute's mission and work reflects the great importance Boston College attaches to exploring issues of diversity.
"I think that it is important to have an African-American senior scholar at Boston College," Fr. O'Keefe said. "It shows our commitment to the need for AHANA presence. It's significant, and it's great for our University."
Helms said, "My area of expertise is the measurement of racial and cultural constructs. Most people in social and behavioral sciences think that if they put people into a racial category and there are differences in their behavior, that they somehow can explain those differences," Helms said.
"My career has been devoted to teaching people that in fact classifying people doesn't help us understand why they behave as they do, but rather the process of categorizing people and understanding that process helps us to understand why people behave as they do," she said.
"What the chair does for me is to give me the support of my colleagues in pursuing that research but also gives me a pulpit - if you will - from which I can make that point more exploratory."
Helms joined the Boston College faculty in 2000 from the University of Maryland, where she was a professor of psychology and co-director of UM's Counseling Psychology Program.
Helms has received numerous awards in recognition of her work, including an engraved brick in Iowa State University's "Plaza of Heroines;" the Distinguished Career Contributions to Research Award from the Society of Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues; and the Lerona Tyler Award, given by the Society of Counseling Psychology in recognition of her distinguished research career.
In 1991, she was the first recipient of the "Janet E. Helms Award for Mentoring and Scholarship in Professional Psychology," a tribute inaugurated in her honor by Teachers College of Columbia University.