Melanie Wilcox, PhD, wants to help people — whether that be her psychology students, students in other disciplines or her clients — who have felt marginalized when trying to get into and pay for graduate school and beyond.
Marginalization refers to the systematic disempowering of individuals and groups because of who they are. Many factors can lead to this denial of access, including historical and current bias, and it can even lead to lack of funding for things such as education. Marginalized people don’t belong to one demographic: Marginalization occurs due to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, socioeconomic status, immigration status and age.Wilcox, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, Institute of Public and Preventive Health, and the Department of Psychiatry at Augusta University, is a licensed psychologist in Georgia, and an accomplished and award-winning scholar. Her research interests, while seemingly varied, have many points of intersection with her own experiences growing up.
“I knew early on that I wanted to become a psychologist, but I also had enough self-awareness to recognize that I am white, and because of that I need to do more to understand and work to best create a psychotherapy session and an educational environment where I can truly be supportive and an ally to my clients and students of color and my LGBTQIA+ students,” Wilcox said.
“Growing up roughly 45 minutes to an hour away from New York City during the post-9/11 tragedy, I was watching all these news clips of racism and Islamophobia being weaponized, and I knew I wanted to become an educator. That was what brought me to study psychology in undergrad and grad school in the first place, and my passion has only grown throughout the years.”
Higher education to help the marginalized
Wilcox has a degree of understanding of what it is like to be judged. She grew up in a lower-income family, but through zoning mistakes, she attended schools that consisted of students who came from families considerably above her own socioeconomic status.
“Because of that error, I grew up acutely aware of disparities in access to resources, as well as how people treated other people,” said Wilcox.
“Due to some of my own experiences with social class and the way that I was bullied because I came from a lower-income home in a very wealthy school district, I was more observant of the way that students of color and LGBTQIA+ students were treated. It was white, upper class, Christian, very heteronormative. It was just a hard place for anyone to be different in any way.”
Wilcox realizes she is not always able to fully relate to those she is trying to help, but because of her own experiences and observations growing up, she studies multicultural psychotherapy and multicultural training, multicultural orientation, whiteness studies, racism and antiracism, racial and economic inequities, the student loan debt crisis, LGBTQIA+ issues, socioeconomic status and social class.
Her research and teaching have three pillars: multicultural psychotherapy and psychotherapy training, racial and socioeconomic inequity in higher education, and whiteness and anti-racism.
This fall, she will teach an advanced psychotherapy course for master’s students as well as abnormal psychology for undergrads.
“I love teaching, and all of my classes are opportunities for me to emphasize how to bring an anti-racist lens to psychotherapy,” said Wilcox.
“The American Psychological Association recently issued an apology and a chronology of a past that supported racism because some of psychology’s most racist roots are in cognitive assessment. Because the work we do in mental health is so important, we need to be able to look at how we can do it in such a way as to be healers rather than create more harm, so I consider it a great privilege to get to teach these classes and get to work with the students at AU, as well as continuing to work toward pushing psychology in this sort of structural competencies direction.”
Earlier this year, Wilcox was recognized by the Southeastern Psychological Association with the Outstanding Professional Paper Award for her presentation “Multicultural Orientation in Cross-Racial Clinical Supervision Processes and Outcomes.”
In 2020, she earned the Outstanding Publication of the Year Award from the Society of Counseling, APA Division 17 for her article “It Takes Money to Make Money: Inequity in Psychology Graduate Student Borrowing and Financial Stressors.”
“To have my work not only published in a top peer-reviewed journal, but also recognized as important, it’s really meaningful both professionally and personally,” Wilcox said.
“The APA was already projecting there was going to be a mental health provider shortage before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now you also see a lot of headlines about the mental health crisis. That gap is only going to widen more. It is just economically infeasible for people to get a graduate degree to provide mental health services, and that’s especially true for first generation students, low socio-economic status students and students of color. So, being able to shed more light on this crisis at the intersection of higher education and the mental health workforce has been very eye-opening and rewarding.”
Wilcox earned her PhD in counseling psychology from the APA-accredited State University of New York at Albany. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cedar Crest College and an associate of science from Lehigh Carbon Community College.
She came to AU from Oklahoma State University, where she was an assistant professor and director of doctoral training in counseling and counseling psychology. Before that, she held positions at Louisiana Tech University, Santa Fe College, Sage College of Albany Graduate School of Heath Sciences, Siena College and the University of Albany.
Wilcox, who served as the APA’s Board of Educational Affairs chair in 2020, is a member of the Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs, the American Psychological Association and several divisions within the APA, including the Society of Counseling Psychology; Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy; Society for the Psychology of Women; Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity; and Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race.