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Interview with Pat Garriott, Ph.D. from the University of Denver on Race, Class, and their Relationship with Educational Equity, Vocational Equity, and Student Mental Health

About Pat Garriott, Ph.D.: Pat Garriott is Associate Professor and Department Chair of the Department of Counseling Psychology in the Morgridge School of Education at the University of Denver. Dr. Garriott’s equity work focuses on the links between educational equity, vocational equity, and mental health, especially as they pertain to race and class.

At the University of Denver, Dr. Garriott directs the Education and Career Equity Lab. He has published research on equity in journals across disciplines, including the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, Journal of Counseling Psychology, Journal of Career Development, and the Journal of Vocational Behavior. His work has been recognized with an Emerging Leader Award from the American Psychological Association Committee on Socioeconomic Status, an Early Career Award from the Counseling Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association, and the University of Denver Faculty Career Champion Award, among other accolades.

Dr. Garriott also serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Career Assessment and Associate Editor for the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. He received his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Missouri and his M.S. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Kentucky, where he also earned his B.A. in Psychology.

Interview Questions

[] May we begin with an overview of your academic and professional background? How did you become interested in counseling psychology and invested in directing your work toward advancing economic and racial justice?

[Dr. Pat Garriott] As an undergraduate psychology major, I had no idea that counseling psychology existed. It was not until I began searching for master’s programs that I found a counseling psychology program at my alma mater, the University of Kentucky. There, I had the opportunity to work with Drs. Keisha Love and Kenneth Tyler, who were the first to show me how research can be used to advocate for institutional change.

At the time, our work was examining race, racism, and adjustment to college at historically white and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I recall Dr. Love letting us know that she had shared results of one of our studies with a high level administration official at our university, and they had expressed interest in how they could use the findings. That was the moment things clicked for me and I confirmed my commitment to pursuing a Ph.D. in counseling psychology.

My clinical work in university counseling center settings further cemented my interest in advancing economic and racial justice, particularly within postsecondary settings. Working in a mental health setting really allowed me to appreciate the connections between racism, classism, and mental health for students minoritized by university environments.

[] Would you introduce us to how you define educational equity in your research and practice? More specifically, your research engages with the relationship between educational equity and vocational equity. Would you discuss the importance of stressing the link between equitable education and equitable work in your scholarship?

[Dr. Pat Garriott] I view educational equity as inextricably linked to vocational equity and attempt to make these connections in my research and practice. For example, several students and I recently co-authored a publication for a book of essays entitled, Rethinking Work, in which we connect the student loan debt crisis to work.

As the cost of postsecondary education has increased over the past several decades, it has maintained and even exacerbated existing inequities along racial, gender, and class lines. Many graduates now default, limit their occupational choices, and delay life milestones as a result of their educational debt. Research consistently shows that these issues disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and Latinx borrowers. In our essay, we argue that race-conscious political action is needed to correct historical wrongs and create a more humane approach to higher education access in the future.

[] One of your recent publications is “When Race and Class Collide: Classism and Social-Emotional Experiences of First-Generation College Students” and reflects your work’s engagement with race and class, as well as its attention to the experiences of first-generation college students. Would you introduce us to how, in this article or more broadly, your research understands race and class as intersecting in shaping the psychological experiences of first-generation students?

[Dr. Pat Garriott] A good deal of literature devoted to first-generation college students avoids, or at best mentions, race as a factor that may intersect with first-generation status. We wanted to demonstrate why it is important to consider race and class in capturing the experiences of first-generation college students.

Our findings showed that associations between institutional classism and social-emotional experiences in college varied for first-generation college students depending on race and subjective social status. Throughout history, social class oppression has operated as a vehicle for white supremacy. Therefore, it is important to account for axes of race and class privilege in analyses of first-generation college students’ educational experiences and success.

[] In other research, like your recent book chapter “Bonded Labor: The Student Debt Crisis and Decent Work,” you explore student debt as a key economic issue that impacts college students and does so in racially disparate ways. How does your work understand student debt as an equity or social justice issue, and what are some of the “pathways” your research identifies for taking action on this issue?

[Dr. Pat Garriott] To expand on my previous answer, we know that defaulting on a student loan (which, in some cases, could mean missing only a single payment) can appear on a credit score and may be used to disqualify a job applicant. The historical and compounding effects of racism, sexism, and classism can place Black, Indigenous, and Latinx borrowers at a distinct disadvantage with regard to their debt-to-income ratio.

The trickle-down effects of this might include having to work excessive hours and/or multiple jobs to meet basic needs. We make several policy recommendations to address these issues. This includes streamlining, simplifying, and expanding qualification for student loan forgiveness. It means canceling a flat rate of student debt for borrowers. It also requires a financial recommitment to higher education from the federal government.

A coordinated effort on all three of these fronts will be necessary to make meaningful and lasting impacts on the student loan debt crisis.

[] At the University of Denver, you are Director of the Education and Career Equity Lab. Would you tell us about the Lab and the work that you do there?

[Dr. Pat Garriott] Our lab is comprised of master’s and doctoral students in the counseling psychology program at the University of Denver. We incorporate a shared leadership model in which students might support and/or lead research projects throughout the year. Currently, we are exploring first-generation college students’ experiences with remittances (i.e., sending money, gifts, or other necessities to their family); first-generation college students’ experiences in university counseling services; and linguistic capital and career development in undergraduate students.

In addition to publishing and presenting our work, we are interested in sharing broadly with organizations that support students or advocate for equitable policy reform. For example, we have collaborated with university student support services offices and conducted Congressional office visits as a team.

[] You are currently Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Career Assessment (JCA) and Associate Editor for the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education (JDHE). Would you talk a bit about your work editing for these publications? Do you see journal editorship as an important site for advancing educational equity, and are there ways you have approached your work as an editor from this perspective that you would highlight?

[Dr. Pat Garriott] This is my second year as Editor for the Journal of Career Assessment (JCA), and I have enjoyed the opportunity to continue the strong reputation of the journal as a high-impact outlet for vocational psychology research. I have also served as an Associate Editor for Journal of Diversity in Higher Education (JDHE) since 2018. This has been a special experience for me because JDHE was the first journal I published in as a lead author! It is also always exciting to see what scholars are doing in fields adjacent to mine, such as higher education and education policy.

I believe that editors play a major role in educational equity from the standpoint that we are often in a position to determine what gets published and by whom. So, we have quite a lot of power to shape standards for scholarship as well as the approach we take through scholarship to address social injustice.

Some of the things I think about from this perspective as an editor are: How do the positionalities of the authors lend unique insight into the problem their study sought to address? Does this research offer something new as it relates to a problem we know exists? What would a practitioner engaged in equity work gain from the results of this study?

[] You are also currently Chair of the Department of Counseling Psychology in the Morgridge College of Education. How does your research on and commitment to educational equity inform your work as Chair?

[Dr. Pat Garriott] Much of my work as an administrator involves connecting policies and systems to the staff, student, and faculty experience. When new policies are implemented, it is my job to think about why policies were created, whom they benefit, and whom they may unintentionally disadvantage.

Advocacy is a major function of the Chair role, so being able to implement advocacy skills is critical. Knowledge of equity-centered research and practice is foundational to identifying problems as well as developing the systemic interventions needed to address them.

[] Drawing from your research and experience, do you have advice you would give to scholars, practitioners, or administrators seeking to advance educational equity through their own work?

[Dr. Pat Garriott] My humble advice is to stay grounded in your “why” and to engage in equity work with a community or partner. Set-backs are common and change is slow. Make change in a way that is meaningful to you.

Find a way to remember your positive impacts on the days that are hard. Keep learning, growing, and trying.

Thank you, Dr. Garriott, for sharing your insight on the connection between racial and socioeconomic equity, student mental health, and career and vocational equity!