“…the idea that we can use our degree and our training to impart lasting change…how can we amplify voices of those who are really hurting.”
When Rachel Singer, Ph.D. was an elementary school teacher in New York, she saw students walk into her classroom everyday freighted with emotional baggage and trauma that overshadowed what she was actually there to teach.
“It was very difficult for me to be teaching basic lessons about spelling when I was having my kindergarten students telling me that they had witnessed a shooting on their block that morning,” Singer said. “I wanted to be doing more community work and outreach.”
Today, Singer is an assistant professor in the Clinical Psychology Department on the Washington D.C. Campus, and was recently named an American Psychological Association Citizen Psychologist. The honor recognizes Singer’s volunteerism and advocacy in the Washington, D.C./Maryland area, especially on behalf of youth and immigrants.
“I think what’s so thrilling about the Citizen Psychologist Award is the emphasis that APA is putting on our non-traditional work outside of the classroom setting, the idea that we can use our degree and our training to impart lasting change, to be focusing on not just identifying concerns that we have, or the real mental health impact on individuals, but how can we amplify voices of those who are really hurting,” Singer said.
Singer’s efforts include her partnership with Operation Understanding DC, a high school mentoring program for black and Jewish youth; pro-bono consultation services to the National Cathedral School, a local school that requested support to address students’ anxiety and related mental health disorders; and joining a team at her synagogue Adat Shalom to sponsor a refugee family, to whom she offers pro-bono counseling services.
In March 2017, she testified before the City of Rockville’s mayor and City Council to express support for community efforts to create a sanctuary city that would separate the role of the police department from immigration authorities. Rockville has since adopted a new law aimed at improving the relationship between the police department and the refugee/immigrant community.
“Family separation is imparting lasting trauma in a very real way, and we as psychologists can say this is not right, and here are the mental health implications, here are the community-wide ramifications for these policies that are so harmful,” Singer said.
Singer also provides outreach and support around mental health with the African Affairs Advisory Group, a community advocacy group serving Maryland’s African immigrant community, which
includes Nigerians, Ghanians, Kenyans, Ethiopians, South Africans and more. The group combats stigma about mental health, and tries connecting community members to services.
Singer offered a window into how her devotion to community informs her classroom approach.
“The most important thing, and something I really try to talk with students about quite a lot, is the emphasis on community partnership,” Singer said. “None of this work is about promoting The Chicago School or promoting students, or saying we know what the community needs. With any really effective research intervention on underserved populations, the questions are: How do you leave that community with tools? How do you ask them what do you see as your needs?”