Brandon Kirkwood, Psy.D., is a 2023 graduate of the Psy.D. Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee:

  • Martha Straus, PhD, Committee Chair
  • Denzel Jones, PhD, LMFT, AAMFT, Committee Member
  • Katherine Evarts Rice, PsyD, Committee Member


minority stress, racial diversity, discrimination, microaggressions, racial injustice, anti-racism, equity, inclusion

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It is well established that the graduate school experience is significantly different for students of color; on top of a rigorous training program, they face additional distinct challenges including racism, discrimination, and feelings of isolation. Insidious Trauma theory provides the framework for this quantitative exploration assessing the impact of poorly facilitated anti-racist conversations on the physical and emotional wellbeing of clinical psychology graduate students of color. George Floyd’s murder, among many other incidents of racial injustice, was a powerful catalyst that propelled academic institutions into action. Anti-racist dialogue became the intentional focus of graduate classes almost overnight. Well-meaning but insufficiently-prepared professors dared to facilitate cross-racial dialogues. This dissertation addresses a knowledge gap, assessing whether anti-racist conversations currently do more harm than good for students of color in predominantly White programs. A survey research design was used to examine how students of color rate their program’s overall facilitation of anti-racist conversations in the following domains: 1) emotional safety, 2) identifying and addressing micro-aggressions, 3) cultural competence, 4) cultural sensitivity, 5) and racial representation of facilitators. The survey further examined physical and emotional symptoms of distress, as well as positive and negative emotions experienced during and immediately following anti-racist dialogue. The findings revealed that the average participant was neither satisfied nor unsatisfied with their graduate program’s overall facilitation of anti-racist conversations. When asked to reflect on their most memorable negative anti-racist conversation, the average participant recalled feeling quite a bit upset and distressed; levels of negative emotions lessened immediately afterwards. Finally, increases in the frequency of negative conversations was correlated with increases in the emotional and physical symptoms of distress. Results are discussed and recommendations are provided with the intention of reinforcing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a prerequisite for productive, meaningful, and culturally sensitive anti-racist dialogue.


Brandon Kirkwood

ORCID Scholar ID# 0000-0003-3557-9051