When Thomas A. Parham joins California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) as president on July 16 he will grab the reins at a very energetic time in the university’s history. Over the last decade, CSUDH has grown physically and academically, bolstering its long-standing mission to be a vehicle for upward mobility and an influential presence in Los Angeles County.
Parham will spend the first months of his presidency engaging the campus community. He plans to meet with faculty, staff, student groups, alumni, the CSUDH foundations, and the broader community to seek pathways for a fresh infusion of energy to further the university’s trajectory.
“There is a high degree of congruence between what we said we wanted to be [in the University Master Plan] and who we currently are, and this has been developed and articulated so well by President [Willie J.] Hagan. I want to applaud him for his leadership and vigor. He left wonderful footsteps to follow,” said Parham. “One of my goals is to look at aspiration versus actualization – have we actualized and operationalized the goals in the context of the work that we do? My goal is to continue helping close that gap.”
Parham, who earned his Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, is celebrated nationally as a leader in counseling psychology and social advocate for student and community empowerment. He comes to CSUDH after a 33-year tenure at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), most recently serving as vice chancellor for student affairs. Prior to UCI, Parham began his academic career at the University of Pennsylvania, serving as what is believed to be the university’s first academic African American psychologist.
I want the university’s influence – our shadow if you will – to not just hang over South L.A. and the South Bay. This entire region is our city, and this is our time and our place to shine. – President Thomas A. Parham
As president of CSUDH, Parham looks forward to leveraging the university’s connections with civic leaders and influential industry partners to create additional opportunities for students and faculty seeking likeminded allies in their respective fields of research, and extending the university’s reach and reputation, particularly among potential students.
“I want to cultivate a lot of investment and interest in the campus to excite people about what we’re trying to do here, and entice them to think about engaging with us in strategic partnerships that enable this university to really actualize its mission,” he said. “I will also work with campus leadership and faculty to figure out how we make this even more of a destination campus. We want people to be breaking down our doors to get in here, so we need to enhance our points of distinction, and to highlight our domains of excellence so we are not the ‘best kept secret’ anymore. That’s my job as president – to sing that song.”
While much of Parham’s professional career was spent in Orange County, he grew up in Los Angeles, having moved with his family from New York when he was 3 years old. During his youth, he lived in such areas as South Los Angeles, the Estrada Courts of East L.A., and in the Crenshaw and Fairfax districts.
“I was raised in a single-parent family household by my mother, Sadie Parham. She never earned more than $18,000 a year in her 32-year career working for the federal government, but raised four successful children. It’s hard to fathom how influential she has been on my life,” Parham shared. “When my parents split, my mom moved us all to my grandmother’s big home in South-Central Los Angeles. So L.A. is home, which is why I have a comfort zone within these communities. It is also why I want the university’s influence – our shadow if you will – to not just hang over South L.A. and the South Bay. This entire region is our city, and this is our time and our place to shine.”
Parham is a distinguished psychologist who has served as president of the National Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD). He is a fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the American Counseling Association as well.
While at UCI, Parham focused his research in the areas of psychological nigrescence, African American psychology, therapeutic approaches to counseling culturally diverse people, health and wellness, and multicultural and cross-cultural counseling. He is a prolific writer who has authored numerous books, articles, and book chapters, and has produced several videos on counseling African Americans and other topics.
“UC Irvine enabled me to keep my ear to the ground. I did clinical work while there – worked with patients and provided consultation. So I’ve been able to stay true to my identity as a psychologist, clinician, scholar, and administrator while also sustaining a role as an academician,” Parham explained. “My teaching helped keep my clinical work sharp, which is critical because good clinical practice proceeds from good theory and qualitative research.”
While managing the rigors of his academic career he served as chair of the City of Irvine’s Human Relations Committee, helping to draft and pass its first human rights ordinance. Parham developed a stellar reputation for working with city leaders and collaborating with the community, garnering acclamation and respect as a social activist.
“As educators we always want to be a healing presence in the lives of other people. We weren’t just working on the committee to pass something, we were trying to put in place principles that would make a real difference,” Parham said. “The idea was that the only element of discrimination that one should engage in should be based on merit, not on demographics. By embracing and endorsing that, Irvine was ahead of its time.”
In the early 1990s, Parham helped charter Orange County’s chapter of the 100 Black Men of America, and subsequently develop its signature Passport to the Future program. He was the architect of the chapter’s Rites of Passage component, and was elected the organization’s fifth president in 2002. Parham has also been appointed twice to chair the national 100 Black Men of America Education Committee, which is a role he may have to relinquish as president of CSUDH.
Collaborating with the College Bound program, Parham produced the similar Rites of Academic Passage component for high school students in L.A. County.
“The program is based on three types of assumptions in regards to working with communities and young people. The program I developed is anchored in my belief in the assumption that I make about working with communities and young people. Excellence for underserved youth, in my opinion, has historically been contingent upon what I call the triangle for success,” he said. “One dimension is a home, one is a school, and the third dimension is community, which almost always includes the church. When those three dimensions are all connected and singing from the same sheet of music our youth tend to thrive. What’s happening now, when you look at the landscape across America, you’ll often see that the dimensions of the triangle exist, but the angles of the triangle are not connected because each dimension appears to blame the others for the failure of our children.”
Along with his mother, one of the most influential individuals in Parham’s life was UCI Professor Dr. Joseph L. White, who passed away in 2017. Affectionately known as the “Godfather of Black Psychology,” the pioneering African American psychologist’s career was a blend of activism, scholarship, clinical work, and mentoring.
White is also celebrated as one of the creators of California’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), and is cherished by the many UCI alumni he provided mentorship for, including Parham.
“When I was a student at UC Irvine I ran into Dr. White one day on the campus walkway. After greeting him and saying, “Hey, Dr. White, How are you doing?” He put his arm around me and said, “Young brother, you have too much talent and you are too brilliant to be running around here playing basketball and chasing women. Come follow me,” Parham recalled. “Over time, he implanted in me visions of possibilities and gave me so many life lessons that I carry to this day. He was a major influence on my trajectory and a father figure, and that is why I identify so much with the difference that faculty mentorship makes in the lives of young people. This is the kind of experience I want for our students here in the Toro Nation at California State University, Dominguez Hills.”