Student Counseling Services upholds their diversity pledge


Erin Pederson, staff psychologist of Student Counselling Services, poses for a portrait in the Student Services building on Iowa State’s campus.

Whitney Mason

For most of Erin Pederson’s life, diversity has been embedded in her. Pederson said that she has been aware of people’s struggles in the world for as long as she can remember.

“When I became aware of people being treated differently because of how they look or parts of their identity or their cultural background,” said Pederson. “I just instantly had this feeling of we need to be kinder to each other and be more inclusive rather than separating and [being] cruel.”

Pederson said that her interests come from shear passion, but are combined with core knowledge and understanding of  where issues like microaggression, oppression and marginalization come from.

Already a staff psychologist for Student Counseling Services, Pederson recently added the role of diversity coordinator. She said that now she has the ability to put specific time into her work week to coordinate discussions about diversity for the Student Counseling Services staff members or collaborating with campus partners to have events or hold discussions.

Pederson and many of her fellow staff members attended and helped facilitate the Campus Conversation held Aug. 26 in response to recent local racial incidents.

Both Pederson and Joyce Davidson, director of Student Counseling Services, said that diversity is something that is embedded in their profession.

“This profession is very in tune and dedicated to growth and awareness and meeting human potential,” Davidson said. “You know helping people get to their potential. It’s an education process, a growth process and an awareness process.”

Pederson said that students do come to student counseling services to voice their concerns about feeling unwelcome and unsafe. Also, students are paying visits to counseling following their encounters with microaggressions.

“It’s not new that the students are feeling at times unwelcome and unsafe,” Pederson said, believing the political climate has heightened the feeling some students feel while on campus.

Davidson said that while the student counseling services hadn’t placed specific initiatives in place to handle racism, staff members have increased their time having regular conversations to share experiences with one another about diversity and inclusion.

Pederson said that the diversity mission statement, which is located on the Student Counseling Services’ website, has established the importance of the diversity and inclusion to the department.

When it comes to racism, Pederson can see the complexity that it has.

“We live in a system. We learn the rules as we’re growing up and we often live in ways that meet the status quo, and we’re all involved in the way the system plays out,” Pederson said.

Pederson said that people get caught up in the dilemma of who is at fault and who did something wrong, and therefore miss out on opportunities to see how big the issues of diversity and inclusion are.

Davidson called racism a “limiting condition” that is in people’s mental makeup until they decide to work to change it.

“It does hold us back, it affects our connections with others,” Pederson mentioned.

Davidson agreed that the national political climate has caused individuals on both sides to be afraid of discussing issues pertaining to diversity.

“I think there’s more response when there’s a heightened, more charged atmosphere,” Davidson said. “It’s not all completely negative. A lot of it has some positive hope in it too.”

Davidson said that the positivity comes from people from both sides willing to respond to issues at hand.

Davidson said that concern for welcoming safe experiences for all students is a part of both student counseling and student affairs’ mindsets and missions.

For Pederson, having intentional conversations with coworkers and clients is a start to take a hand in ending racism. By doing this, Pederson believes it helps opens eyes and minds.

“I think trying to meet people where they are at while having these conversations, rather we are against each other conversations, [it’s a] joining conversation, coming together in some way to see things from each other’s perspectives,” said Pederson.

Pederson said that for her to do community actions like facilitating and being apart of the Campus Conversation and similar events are beneficial and help her take a stand in what she believes.

Davidson and Pederson agreed that it is important for them to maintain compassion to those who are oppressed, but also to those who are the oppressor. This ensures that neither side becomes dehumanized.

“Compassion doesn’t mean complacency,” Pederson said.

Pederson said that by generalizing people on one side and deeming them “bad” doesn’t help with moving forward. To Pederson, committing these actions is just the continuation of dehumanizing all peoples.

Pederson admitted that as a counseling service, the office doesn’t seem to be a big force in the realm of social issues. What Pederson, Davidson and other staff members do is more of the behind the scenes work. That includes clinical work, having small group conversations and partnering with campus organizations.

“I think we see ourselves in the business of healing and hope, moving things forward from that perspective and that’s done a lot in individual and small group settings,” said Davidson. “It’s not partially flashy.”

To Davidson and Pederson, the behind the scenes work that the student counseling services does is what is most important.

“This profession is very in tune and dedicated to growth and awareness and meeting human potential,” said Joyce Davidson, director of Student Counseling Services. “You know helping people get to their potential. It’s an education process, a growth process and an awareness process.”

We believe in affirming dignity for all persons, we work to grow in our Awareness of Prejudice and Diversity and we claim our personal identities and honor those of others are the codes that the Student Counseling Services abide by when it comes to diversity and inclusion at Iowa State.