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Meet Brean’A Monet Parker: ‘I Want Students to Learn the Process of Being a Critical Scholar and a Critical Counselor’

NC State College of Education Assistant Professor Brean'A Monet Parker

Why did you choose the NC State College of Education?

I wanted to be at an institution that has a lot of resources and is already doing transformative as well as innovative work, but that was also somewhere that I would enjoy living. I actually have family in North Carolina and I’ve heard good things about NC State. Going to conferences I kept hearing about these faculty members as well as amazing students who do this really interesting work, especially around social justice and multicultural counseling, and I wanted to be at a place that I could have that fostered and cultivated for myself as a faculty member.

Why did you choose a career in education? 

I always planned to be a counselor, especially in high school. I wanted to be a psychologist or a counselor. In my master’s program, I was doing counseling 15 hours a week and I realized there were some spaces and gaps in the way we were being trained and, as opposed to complaining and griping about it, my mentor suggested I become a counselor educator because that’s the best of both worlds. You can still do counseling but you can also marry that with education and training and helping develop people who are called to this field. I liked that training was a big part of it and it wasn’t just about doing research and then training and research later.

What drew you to your specific field?

First I wanted to be an astronaut, but I have a deathly fear of heights, so I realized that was not going to work. I used to watch “Law and Order: SVU,” and I used to love the forensic psychologist because he was so cool and he would be able to just look at somebody and have all this information, and I thought it would be so cool to be able to look at someone and kind of figure them out and know why they do what they do. I decided I wanted to be able to do that. I wanted to be able to sit with people and understand what they do. I think I used to do that anyway. My friends used to always come to me and tell me about their problems, and I would keep it to myself and offer advice. That was my entryway into this might be a perfect fit for who I am and what I care about, which is people and relationships.

Why did you decide to pursue a Ph.D.?

Initially, I very much felt intimidated by the Ph.D. process because I didn’t know anybody who was a Black woman or a Black person who had ever been through a Ph.D. program. When I entered my master’s program, I had an opportunity to work with a lot of counseling psychology students and our research team was primarily composed of Black people, so I was seeing people doing this amazing research that involved people that look like me. And also having people who told me “you’re very smart” was one of the reasons why I decided to just apply and see what would happen

In addition to that I couldn’t just do counseling. It’s very important work, but I wanted to do that as well as provide what I wish I’d had in my master’s program, which was somebody who looks like me and to have topics that were important to me covered.

What are your research interests and what sparked your interest in that topic(s)?

I have three main areas that my research program falls under. The first is interpersonal violence, which is a big umbrella term for any violence that involves coercion or control or manipulation. Oftentimes we talk about them with specific actions of abuse such as sexual abuse, domestic violence or intimate partner violence as well as molestation or stalking where there’s one person trying ot exert control over another person. I’m also interested in looking at social justice sustainable counselor education and then the last one is healing practices.

For interpersonal violence, watching movies as a kid, especially movies made for or by black people, I’ve always seen an element of violence there. So as I was kind of coming into my graduate program, domestic violence really sort of focused on college students or married couples; traditional couples. But I was like does it not happen to black people? Does it not happen to queer couples? Does it not happen to folks who have disabilities? You never hear about it, so I was like I want this to be my research.

For the social justice sustainable counselor education, I wondered if there are ways we can find affirming as well as sustainable practices that 10, 20 even 40 years from now, can still be a part of the education training program. The last one is healing, which actually came from my interpersonal violence work in that Black women and other groups, even though they’re experiencing overal oppression and marginalization and also experiencing interpersonal violence, there are still areas where they thrive and are showing resistance and they’re healing themselves. So I think it’s really important, as opposed to a professional telling people how to heal or how they’re supposed to get better, that we observe and work in partnership with the ways that they naturally heal themselves and find joy and pleasure and love and a sense of wholeness during or after experiencing that.

What is your teaching philosophy?

There are three main things I try to cultivate in my classroom. One is I want to create and foster brave spaces. As you can imagine in counseling, we talk about very heavy stuff all the time both within yourself and also in general. A lot of times I try to create a space where people feel comfortable sharing things about themselves. I try to create a space where I can also bring my full authentic, vulnerable self into the room and invite them to do the same and know that they’re going to be safe.

Another thing is I like to utilize different forms of learning and knowledge production skills, so utilizing creative devices such as podcasts or story apps or music, integrating that into the work that I do with my students, either in the classroom or through homework assignments or discussion posts, it’s important for me because I want them to be able to see things that they’re learning in every part of their lives so that it just doesn’t feel so siloed. Also, I like to bring in my own stories of counseling because for the most part, most of the people I will be working with, this is their first time ever doing mental health counseling.I try to create a classroom environment where it’s an exchange.

What do you hope your students learn from you?

I want them to learn the process of being a critical scholar and a critical counselor by the time they leave. Because you’ll always have textbooks to help you, you’ll always have resources that can do this work for you, but I’m more interested in students being able to integrate the theory into the work when they leave my classroom. I want them to be able to think outside the box as far as how they can approach counseling and wellness and think about how their own identity, their privileges, that could be considered blind spots. I want them to know how toI acknowledge when they don’t know something and know where they can go to get that information they need to be better. That’s what I hope for them.

What do you think makes someone an “extraordinary educator?”

I think it’s someone who is never tired of learning and someone who is humble and open to receiving different forms of knowledge. There’s something different about being able to bring in situated knowledge and being able to use that in your future, being able to share that with other people that I think is extraordinary because that shouldn’t be something that you keep to yourself. It should be something that you share with other people and that you also participate in creating those different forms of knowledge. You don’t want to be doing the same things for another 100 years, you want to be able to push it forward and challenge education in a different way as well.