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WISR Scholar-Activists


This page is a companion to the web page of profiles of WISR alumni–the “WISR’s Distinctive Alumni” page–under WISR “People.” These profiles are, for the most part, even more extensive than the stories on the “Alumni” page. Here, we have assembled an extremely diverse and especially in-depth collection of stories, which, when read together, illustrate both the diversity of WISR learners and the theme that many WISR learners are outstanding scholar-activists—many of those listed under “Distinctive Alumni” as well as those highlighted here.

Dr. Cynthia Lawrence . . . “Multiculturality and Learner-Centered Education”

Dr. Lawrence brings out the “scholar activist” in others

Dr. Cynthia Lawrence received her PhD at WISR in 1987. Her doctoral program focused on the education of African American children, and on progressive, alternative approaches to multicultural education. Her dissertation grew out of years of experience as a classroom teacher, field supervisor of student teachers, and professor of teacher education at the University of California at San Diego. It set forth an educational approach based on her success in teaching reading to children who had previously been identified as failures.

Cynthia celebrates a WISR learner’s graduation

She revised her dissertation for use as an instructional guide and resource book for teachers of reading and writing to children. Her work as a faculty member in the Teacher Education program at UC San Diego was very important because of that program’s special emphasis at that time on alternative, learner-centered education and multicultural education. She retired from the Teacher Education Program at UC San Diego about 10 years after completing her WISR PhD, but continued to teach classes and supervise student teachers for a number of years.

She has led many workshops on cultural inclusion and diversity, over the years, and has been instrumental in developing and training teachers for a charter (experimental) school in San Diego that is culturally and linguistically based, an African-centered charter school designed to eliminate the achievement gap. Her work in race and human relations was expanded to include an appointment to the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on gay and lesbian issues. She was also Grand Marshall for the 1990 San Diego LGBT Pride Parade. In her spare time, she gathered a small group of women together to make meaningful music. In 1987, she founded the San Diego Women’s Chorus. She co-presented a paper at the Annual Women’s Studies Conference in St. Louis on “Tying Academics to the Community.” She received the Susan B. Anthony Award from the San Diego chapter of the National Organization for Women for her work in the community and her representation of women in teaching. She is also a founding member of Lesbians and Gays of African Descent United (LAGADU).

She served as a member of WISR’s core faculty and Board for over 25 years, and recently retired and is core faculty emeritus.  She has been recognized by WISR students, faculty and Board as being a key source of wisdom and inspiration in helping to make WISR what it is today. She is now core faculty emeritus at WISR, and continues to live in San Diego. While on the faculty at WISR she has written a number of important articles for educators and learners, some of them recently published, on action-research, writing in one’s own voice, and learning the “WISR way.” Read and comment on the Wisrville blogs to which Cynthia contributes: Educating for a Change and Music and Social Change.

Dr. Anngwyn St. Just . . . “Cross-Cultural Trauma Education and Recovery”

Dr. Anngwyn St. Just

Dr. Anngwyn St. Just completed her MA in Psychology at WISR in 1992, and her PhD in Higher Education and Social Change at WISR in March, 1994. Dr. St. Just is a systemically oriented social traumatologist. She is also a cultural historian, trauma specialist and somatic educator who specializes in developing multi-modal, cross cultural methods for trauma education and recovery. Her master’s and doctoral theses written during her years at WISR evolved into a first book Relative Balance in an Unstable World: A Search for New Models for Trauma Education and Recovery. Also available in German and Spanish, this volume chronicles the evolution and expansion of her understanding of trauma to include the kinds of overwhelm that extend beyond the individual, into the realms of family, community, nations and the global biosphere. Readers are invited to look beyond current concepts of trauma to include Nature, shamanic wisdom, cross-cultural, non-verbal, somatically oriented methods and an appreciation of the healing power of community. Topics include the special needs of traumatized women, healing powers of Nature, impact of war upon generations of family and cross cultural war trauma work in the former USSR. Her most recent book is A Question of Balance: A Systemic Approach to Understanding and Resolving Trauma.

Dr. St. Just’s latest book

While working on her MA at WISR, she taught in the University of California Extension Drug Program. She also served on the staff of a nonprofit institute devoted to multicultural work with trauma survivors, where she did in-service training of staff who were working with people experiencing post-traumatic stress syndrome. She was also a staff member of the recovery program for trauma survivors, including Vietnam veterans, Soviet Afghanistanian veterans, battered women, people with chemical dependency problems, sexual trauma victims and survivors of natural disasters. Her writings during her studies at WISR were presented at professional meetings in the U.S. and published in a scholarly journal in Russia. After completing her MA, she moved to Colorado and became licensed as a counselor in the State of Colorado, and when she later moved to Arizona, she became a licensed counselor there, as well.

Anngwyn’s latest book is available in Spanish

During her studies at WISR, she developed her own contemplative camping model which uses the natural world in healing the wounded feminine. She served as co-director of the combat trauma recovery program at the International Center School of Rehabilitation in Moscow–the only post-traumatic stress recovery facility in the former USSR. During that time, she was the Director of the Colorado Center for Social Trauma in Lyons, Colorado. She served as the Chairperson of the Board for an AIDS outreach and self-help program in Boulder, as well. Over the years, Dr. St. Just has been a frequent presenter at professional conferences, going back to 1990s, such as the 34th Annual International Conference of the Association for Humanistic Psychology held in August 1996 in Tacoma, Washington. She has presented lectures and seminars throughout Europe: including the C. G. Jung Institute in Switzerland, the Annual European Rolfing Conference in England, and the European Conference on Traumatic Stress in the Netherlands. Read and comment on Dr. St. Just’s Wisrville blog: http://anngwyn.wisrville.org/

Dr. David Yamada . . . “Combating Workplace Bullying, Creating Healthy Workplaces”

David Yamada received his PhD from WISR in 2010, and his dissertation was, as he himself states, “a consolidation and assessment of my past, present, and future work” in the area of workplace bullying. Dr. Yamada is a tenured Professor of Law at Suffolk University in Boston . Indeed, he is an internationally recognized authority on the legal and policy aspects of workplace bullying, and he has drafted model legislation known as the Healthy Workplace Bill that is being introduced in state legislatures across the country. He is a prolific author of scholarly articles and of proposed policy and legislation on the growing problem of workplace bullying. He has often been interviewed by major media on problems of and possible solutions to workplace bullying. For example, he has appeared on MSNBC, been quoted in Newsweek,and interviewed about the health as well as the organizational and legal impacts of workplace bullying.

David Yamada interviewed on MSNBC, July 23, 2010

Significantly, during his PhD studies at WISR, he founded the New Workplace Institute–“a multidisciplinary, non-profit research and education center devoted to the creation of healthy, productive, and socially responsible workplaces. The New Workplace Institute [serves] as a vehicle for engaging in research and public education on important issues related to work and employment. Our initial efforts will be devoted to three projects:
• Healthy Workplace Initiative
• Workplace Bullying Project
• Safety Net Project”

David also just finished his second term as Chair of the National Executive Committee of Americans for Democratic Action , “the nation’s oldest independent liberal political organization, dedicated to individual liberty and building economic and social justice at home and abroad.”

In his evaluation of his PhD experience at WISR, David describes his pre-dissertation studies as an “Enjoyable Mess” and he goes on to write:

David Yamada

“In a doctoral program, it is advisable to concentrate one’s pre-dissertation work on topics that will lead up to the dissertation. This integrated, building-block approach will save time and sharpen one’s focus. With such a strong and substantive foundation of research and analysis, the dissertation will naturally flow.
I took the opposite approach. My pre-dissertation work constituted a collection of projects and papers reflecting a determined lack of focus:
• My first learning project was a paper on how market economics and technology affect higher education. The paper anticipated the growing commoditization of higher education.
• I followed that with an extended project on progressive intellectuals and political activism, examining the decline in my own political involvement since becoming an academic. The project would help lead to my re-entry into the worlds of politics and political advocacy.
I did an extensive, practicum-level project on Boston, race, and civil rights, built around my involvement in two initiatives: (1) the LeadBoston fellowship program for mid-career professionals interested in community service, and (2) the City-Wide Dialogues on Boston’s Race and Ethnicity.
I used two learning projects to reflect upon adult learning activities done for personal enjoyment and fulfillment: (1) Attending a two-week summer school at Cambridge University in England; and (2) participating in a weekly singing workshop at the Boston Center for Adult Education.
Until my dissertation, I did only one learning project closely related to my work as a law professor, a study of the employment law rights of student interns. That paper was the basis of an article published in the Connecticut Law Review.
• Late in my program, I wrote a paper on John Ohliger, a pioneering adult educator and activist, using his work as an examination of adult educators functioning as public intellectuals. That paper was the basis of book chapter included in an anthology of reflections on his lifetime body of work, published by Jossey-Bass.
My early ideas about intellectual activism and non-traditional learning were fueled by two learning projects: (1) a somewhat roaming paper on building progressive intellectual communities; and (2) an extensive annotated bibliography on non-traditional adult and higher education.
In hindsight, I wish that I had been slightly more attentive to the idea of using my learning projects as a prelude to my dissertation. However, this may have been impossible, as it took me a long time to settle on my dissertation topic. Furthermore, I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue projects that engaged me, even if they lacked apparent coherence as a personal curriculum. Many of these projects helped to nurture interests and activities that continue to this day.”

David Yamada during a break period at WISR’s annual conference

He goes on to discuss his dissertation experience in these ways:

“At first, I had fancies of turning the dissertation into a book, perhaps a magisterial magnum opus on workplace bullying. Eventually I tempered those ambitions, realizing that I lacked the disciplinary depth and breadth to write such a work. Instead, I began to see the dissertation as a sort of personal journal and workbook that would help to guide my future efforts with regard to workplace bullying. Frankly, the resulting dissertation is more a consolidation and assessment of my past, present, and future work than a boldly original piece of writing.
I do not see that result in negative terms. Despite spending over a decade addressing various aspects of workplace bullying, I had not deeply reflected on this work either substantively or personally. The resulting process of reflection and writing would have a rather ironic effect. After examining potential responses to workplace bullying from the perspectives of various employment relations stakeholders, I understood that I should not attempt to be a multidisciplinary “jack of all trades” on a topic of considerable complexity. Instead, I needed to embrace my own expertise in the legal and policy ramifications of workplace bullying.
After all, I had written the leading law review articles on the legal aspects of workplace bullying and drafted anti-bullying legislation that was being introduced in state legislatures across the country. Although plenty of organizational behavior specialists and industrial/organizational psychologists were writing about workplace bullying, comparatively few legal scholars and attorneys had taken up the mantle. Thus, as my dissertation rounded into shape, I set out plans for a book on workplace bullying and the law. Writing that book is a current focus of my work, and parts of it will draw upon chapters written for my dissertation.
But today I engage in this work with a much deeper appreciation for its human impacts

And he concludes by commenting on his participation in WISR’s first two annual conferences in 2009 and 2010:

Osahon Eigbike and David Yamada at WISR’s Annual Conference, 2010

“I recall saying something to the effect that at WISR, the term “multidisciplinary” actually means caring about people in all their different aspects. I had not yet fully internalized this value when I enrolled many years ago. I “get it” now. . . . Work on the dissertation also gave me an opportunity to bring together my ideas about intellectual activism, which I compiled in an Appendix. It was very satisfying to put this to paper, even if I was not quite sure what I would do with it beyond my degree program. Fortunately, WISR’s first two All School Conferences in 2009 and 2010 would give me a chance to discuss this concept and to grasp its true significance.
I presented at both All School Conferences on aspects of intellectual activism. However, for me it took the presentations by other learners to breathe life into what I had conceptualized. Whether it was the work of Marjorie Coffey and Dennis Hastings on the history of the Omaha tribe, or the work of Osahon Chris Eigbeke on “glossing over” hard questions in addressing social change in Africa, I realized that WISR is all about people engaging in various forms of intellectual activism for the purpose of making a difference in their communities.”

Please read David’s blog of the New Workplace Institute, “Minding the Workplace” and his Wisrville blog with Chris Warner, “Second Thoughts: the Blog of the John Ohliger Institute for Social Inquiry.”

Dr. William (Bill) Heineke . . . “Addressing the Challenges of Child Abuse and Neglect”

Dr. William (Bill) Heineke completed his PhD at WISR in 2009. He has lived in the State of Wyoming since 1978 and during that entire time, his professional career has been focused on addressing the challenges posed by child abuse and neglect. He has been a child and adolescent therapist; he has started and led treatment programs for children and for their parents; and he has responsibility for providing expert testimony in court cases, among other related roles he has assumed over the years. He previously earned an Ed.D. from the University of Wyoming and a Master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin. His WISR dissertation, “Kids, Clinicians, and the Courts: The Multidisciplinary Treatment Team’s Individual, Group Member, and System Problems In Cases of Child Abuse and Neglect.” As Bill pointed out, “Multidisciplinary treatment teams are by statute comprised of attorneys for the parents; guardian ad litem attorney for the children; prosecuting attorney; a variety of mental health professionals, including psychologists, counselors, marriage and family therapists; and social workers managing the case for the child protection agency. These teams, through their interdisciplinary combination of professionals, may pose significant problems to the helping intervention process.” His dissertation action-research on and with multidisciplinary treatment teams resulted in “a manual for purposes of moving the team towards an evaluation process that maintains focus on the helping intervention goals of the team. This manual together with the work of meeting with team members is part of an effort to increase the efficacy of team functioning.”

His research and activist accomplishments in his work in Wyoming are described in relation to his own learning process and experience at WISR–in his comments, taken from his written, end of program evaluation of his experiences while enrolled at WISR:
“I am a long term professional anomaly in Campbell County, Wyoming. When I came here in 1978 I was employed as a child and adolescent therapist. I, with another therapist, started the first outpatient treatment program for felony convicted sex offenders in a community mental health center in the state of Wyoming. . . . My commitment to work in the area of child abuse and neglect has never changed. There is always much to be learned, discovered among what is considered known and accepted practices. . . . One very important way for me to sustain myself professionally was to go back to school. I missed the studying, the work, the joy and stimulation of learning. I wanted to be systematic about it. WISeR’s program with its flexible learning contract reflected my needs.

The program of self-directed study was a good fit. I was able to tailor projects to areas of study within child abuse and neglect that incorporated my training and expertise and developed it further. It was nice to go at a steady pace. The areas of study were guided with good conversations and suggestions. My faculty advisor offered good support and conversations on all projects. In our discussions he often gave another perspective that helped clear my thinking that moved me down the track. This is a strength of WISeR.

The required paper on social change was a challenge with which I struggled for finding myself. This paper started out slowly and developed . . . My personal belief is that it is truly a publishable paper with considerable relevance to today’s problems with child abuse and war. I will continue to work on it. it is a paper well done but in process. It was difficult to stop the writing even with the clear conclusions.

The strength of flexibility of the WISeR program is appreciated in how my dissertation research developed. One project paper was the development of a parent reabuse/reneglect risk assessment. This evolved into the dissertation research with a manual for multidisciplinary treatment teams presented in a way that resulted in a social change of the manner in which the multidisciplinary treatment team culture evaluated information about a case and made recommendations to the court. The research changed the court’s orders—specifically now orders for parents to be evaluated in relation to their attachment to their children. Professionals began to use the term “parental capacity assessments” and discuss their implications for a given family. The courts, on the basis of recommendations from attorneys and multidisciplinary treatment teams, began to order these assessments. This work became a mainstream part for many of these cases.The WISeR learning process readily supported this type of research. That is an institutional strength [of WISeR’s] of considerable value.”

Dr. Zak Kondo . . . “Historian and African American Educator-Activist”

Dr. Zak Kondo completed his PhD at WISR in 2009. For many years, he has been engaged in serious scholarship in the development of an Africentric world view. He has published books and articles, delivered lectures and produced CDs growing out of his scholarship, including the book, The Unraveling the Assassination of Malcolm X and The Black Student’s Guide to Positive Education. He has taught at a number of colleges and universities on the East Coast, including Bowie State University, Goddard College’s external degree program, and Baltimore City College.

His WISR dissertation was on The Racial Politics of Post-World War II, 20th Century American Presidents. This project was motivated by Zak’s interest in several areas. To start, it was motivated by first historical love—American Presidents. As he noted in his dissertation‘s introduction, he basically worshipped presidents starting in the second grade. He continued his love affair until the seventh grade when his neighborhood was bused to a white school across town and he thus began developing a racial consciousness. In the seventh grade, he became engulfed by the history of Africans in the U.S. and abroad. By high school, he became interested in the role that race and racism play in peoples‘ politics. In college, his interests continued expanding. He realized that he appreciated American politics in a fashion similar to his appreciation of history. By his second year of college, he declared two majors—History and Political Science. Since leaving a Ph.D. program in American history at Howard University, he became fascinated by 20th century America and by the ever-expanding field of American Studies.

The topic Zak chose for his dissertation, thus, married his special interests in: (1) American Presidents; (2) Racial Issues; (3) Political Science; (4) 20th Century America and (5) African American history. He grew up in the post-World War II era and noticed that his parents, family and teachers had strong views about most of the presidents serving during this era and those presidents‘ views of and dealings with African Americans. He sought to assess the extent to which their views and image of presidents mirrored those president‘s actual racial politics. He sought to determine the Presidents’ racial politics by examining public, private, and personal sources offering a window to their racial views, beliefs and actions. He utilized autobiographies, biographies, memoirs, speeches, correspondences, documentaries, tapes, news conferences, interviews with politically astute laypeople, and other sources to achieve this end.

His study found that the nine, post-World War II, 20th Century American presidents, as a group were racists who used Africans and African issues in the U.S. as political pawns. They supported or attacked African interests based on their political agendas.

Other projects pursued during his PhD studies included: The Making of a Progressive Black Historian, Major Myths in American and African-American History, Important Figures and Events in African and African American History, Racism in Contemporary America, American Foreign Policy, Major Issues in the Black Experience in the US, Black Consciousness in Modern America, Surveying Important Events and Figures in American History to 1965, The Black Inferiority Myth and its Impact, African American Culture in 1959, Introduction to American and Cultural Studies, American Culture to 1959, Organized Religion in America, and Theories of Social Change.

In his self-evaluation of his experiences at WISR, Dr. Kondo comments on WISR’s support of his development as a scholar-activist:

“. . . My three-year WISR career was highlighted by several developments. The first was the self-designed nature of the doctoral program. For an independent thinker and seasoned scholar like myself, a self-designed program is extremely sensible and reasonable. I appreciated the opportunity to develop a curriculum that meets my special needs rather than being trapped in a traditional program riddled with a stream-lined set of required courses and a small pool of electives.
The second development was the respect that faculty accorded learners. At both the University of Virginia and Howard University, the faculty members with whom I encountered generally placed graduate students on a level below them and seemingly lacked respect for us. This showed in the manner in which they addressed students, critiqued us and evaluated us. As a graduate student at these institutions, a day never passed without us being reminded that we were at the bottom of the food chain.
During my WISR experience, the faculty dealt with learners as colleagues and associates rather than as professors. When I submitted a paper at WISR, I received constructive feedback. Faculty offered ways that I could enhance it without losing the spirit or tone of the paper. Faculty understood that my voice, even as it may have differed from theirs, was legitimate and valid and had a right to full expression.
The third development was WISR’s commitment to Academic Freedom. Academic Freedom has become a mantra in the Academy for the past four or five decades. There are some institutions that clearly are committed to this concept. However, I seldom witnessed Academic Freedom at the schools I attended. . . .
The fact that WISR allowed me to complete course-work and my dissertation on some extremely controversial topics says much about the school’s commitment to Academic Freedom. More, WISR faculty seemingly encouraged students to pursue research and studies that faculty at traditional schools would disallow or discourage.
The fourth development was the academic and political activism of WISR’s faculty. Whether the vehicles were the monthly seminars or the website, WISR faculty constantly demonstrated their commitment to social and academic change by presenting papers, participating in community organizing, delivering lectures, and/or writing articles. Their efforts inspired and encouraged students such as myself to appreciate the intersection between theory and practice.
The fifth development was WISR embracement of the principle that research does not have to fit into a box, and does not have to answer all the questions. Rather, sometime the value in research revolves around the extent to which it raises important questions. This principle runs counter to the philosophy and culture of traditional schools which subscribe to the principle that research is designed to resolve questions rather than leave them hanging. I resisted this principle initially but have come to appreciate it and to subscribe to it.
In sum, WISR has enabled me to grow intellectually and politically and to refine skills that I likely would not have addressed at a traditional school.”

Ronald Mah, LMFT . . .  “Marriage and Family Therapist, Professional Leader and Scholar”

Ronald Mah completed his MA in Psychology at WISR in September, 1991, and went on to become a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with an extensive private practice in San Leandro. He re-enrolled to pursue his PhD at WISR in 2009 and completed his doctoral studies in March 2013.

When he started at WISR he was the owner and principal of a Berkeley pre-school, and had previously developed three children’s craft books: Predator/Prey Puppets, Dinosaur Masks and Puppets, and North American Animal Masks and Hats. His MA thesis examined the images of family roles and relationships that people learn from television, stories, and films. While pursuing his MA at WISR, he accumulated 1500 hours of supervised experience toward the MFCC (now the “MFT) license.

In addition to his private practice as a licensed counselor, Ronald has worked as a part-time community college instructor and lecturer and a seminar presenter to professional and early childhood education organizations and schools. He has been a frequent presenter of papers at the Annual Conference of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT). Other groups to which he has made presentations include the California Association for the Education of Young Children, the Professional Association of Child Care Employers, and University Child Care Services. Ronald is a member of WISR’s core faculty, and has just completed serving a second term on the Board of the California Association of Marriae and Family Therapists (CAMF). He is a prolific writer on topics related to parenting, couples therapy and cross-cultural counseling [ www.ronaldmah.com ].

Listen to KQED Interview with WISR doctoral student, Jake Sloan:

Interview with WISR doctoral student, Jake Sloan, on KQED Forum, with Michael Krasny, May 29, 2018:


“In ‘Standing Tall,’ author Jake Sloan tells the story of the Mare Island “21ers,” who were African-American construction workers at Vallejo’s Mare Island Naval Shipyard in the 1960s. Facing insidious and chronic discrimination, a handful of the workers protested and filed a complaint with the federal government for mistreatment, despite fears of retribution. Their actions led to slow but systemic change, which benefited black workers in the construction industry and beyond. Sloan worked at Mare Island at the time and described himself as a young “foot soldier” in the 21ers movement.”  Guest:  Jake Sloan, author, Standing Tall: Willie Long and the Mare Island Original 21ers; owner, Davillier-Sloan Construction Company.    Jake’s book, Standing Tall, was published by WISR Press.

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