Having worked his entire career to promote multiculturalism, educational psychology professor Kevin O. Cokley is now being recognized for his impact on the UT community.
Cokley was selected to join the prestigious UT System Distinguished Academy of Teachers, an organization that recognizes outstanding educators throughout the UT system. One of two university nominees, and 14 system-wide nominees, Cokley’s significant contributions to race-based dialogue in the classroom, counseling and research distinguished him in a competitive applicant pool.
“I was shocked, because I was not just competing with faculty from the University of Texas at Austin, but from the entire 14-institution system,” said Cokley. “In addition, nominees have to have been recipients of the Regent’s Outstanding Teaching award, which is awarded at the university system level as well.”
Christopher J. McCarthy, a counseling psychology and counselor education professor, said Cokley utilized unique race-based perspectives to foster multiculturalism in the counseling psychology program.
“His classes teach counselors and psychologists how to engage with clients of diverse backgrounds and how to conduct multicultural research, both invaluable additions considering that most graduate research has utilized predominantly white samples,” McCarthy said. “He’s really an outstanding researcher and instructor.”
Although he has distinguished himself as a top educator, Cokley maintains the importance of his research concerning African-American psychology, education, identity and mental health. During his career as a top educator, Cokley has made research concerning black American psychology, education, identity and mental health his priority.
“My academic career began with my research on African-American academic achievement,” Cokley said. “I wanted my research to serve as a defense of African-American students, a refutation of black anti-intellectualism and a medium through which people might better understand the black educational experience.”
His work has garnered national attention, particularly concerning the impostor phenomenon, a syndrome that refers to individuals who exhibit competence and achievement while remaining convinced they are “frauds” who do not deserve recognition. Research concerning the impostor phenomenon had been conducted with high-achieving women, but Cokley aimed to explore the subject through the lens of race.
“I applied this research to people of color,“ Cokley said. “After Viola Davis won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, ABC News published an article highlighting her struggles with impostor syndrome, and cited one of my studies. Seeing one’s work being disseminated and made broadly accessible to the public is invigorating.”
Professor McCarthy, once an observer in Cokley’s classroom, said Cokley uses current trends and personality to foster an engaging class environment.
“He is a dynamic and caring instructor who constantly seeks feedback from his students, while relating course topics to current issues,” McCarthy said. “He is a great example of an effective researcher and effective instructor.”
Manuel J. Justiz, dean of the College of Education and Cokley’s nominator, said Cokley’s ability to be more than an educator to students distinguished him.
“Dr. Cokley has consistently been recognized as an outstanding teacher, and it is his ability to bring education alive to undergraduate students that has earned him this award,” said Justiz. “Dr. Cokley is an inspiration and mentor to his students.”
Cokley said he hopes to leave his mark on the UT System as a scholar, a researcher and an educator.
“My goal is to ensure that students of color can do what I am doing because it is imperative for students of color to see people of color teaching,” Cokley said. “I want to know that I have inspired students to pursue what I’m doing and exposed them to possibilities they might not have seen otherwise.”