"The cultural myth that "anyone can make it if they try" ignores the fact that the skills, motivations and other resources required for a successful, satisfying life are all affected enormously by differences in relative privilege coming from parental values, knowledge, affluence, social status, and social connections—as well as from institutional biases that advantage the affluent, and are far greater in this society than in other developed nations." -- Dr. Earl R. Carlson
The Department of Psychology is saddened to announce the passing of Dr. Earl R. Carlson. Dr. Carlson is an alumni of the Department of Psychology who established the Earl R. Carlson Professorship and the Eleanor Carlson Endowed Fellowship, which have had transformative impacts on our Department and society's understanding of the effects of privilege and inequality on societal well-being.
Born in Seattle, Dr. Carlson graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Washington in 1948 with a degree in psychology and went on to complete his PhD at the University of Michigan in 1954. After teaching at Michigan State University, he spent his career as a professor of social psychology at California State University in Long Beach, retiring in 1990.
Dr. Carlson's lifelong interest in social issues, human rights, and political action animated his academic career and prompted him to establish the Earl R. Carlson Professorship in Psychology at the University of Washington in 1999 and the Eleanor Carlson Endowed Graduate Fellowship in Psychology in 2002. He was inspired in part by his mother, raised in poverty, whose desperate desire to go to college was thwarted by an affluent uncle unwilling to loan her the necessary $200, believing women didn't need higher education. The Eleanor Carlson Endowed Fellowship, which supports graduate students, is named after Dr. Carlson's mother.
The goals of both endowments are to support research on the effects of socioeconomic and cultural inequalities on the psychological and physical resources that children evolve that contribute to successful and happy lives. Important parts of this include study of impediments to success and well-being and study of the beliefs and misconceptions people have about why people are successful or not successful. Dr. Ana Mari Cauce, President of the University of Washington, was the first recipient of the Earl R. Carlson Professorship in 2000. Since Dr. Cauce, the professorship has been held by Dr. Lilana Lengua, Director of the Center for Child and Family Well-Being and Dr. Clara Wilkins, director of the Social Perceptions and Intergroup Attitudes Lab. In addition, the Eleanor Carlson Fellowship has supported dozens of graduate students in the Department who conduct research on the effects of socio-economic, cultural, family, or educational background on the ability to learn the skills and acquire motivations that contribute to success and psychological well-being.
"Earl leaves a tremendous legacy at the UW as a scholar and a supporter, and I am honored to have been the first person to hold the professorship he endowed. His vision, insight and commitment to social psychology as a tool for equity and opportunity have always been an inspiration to me, and I will miss him dearly." -- Dr. Ana Mari Cauce, former Earl R. Carlson Professor & current President of the University of Washington
"The resources from the Earl Carlson professorship and the Eleanor Carlson student fellowship allowed me to support pilot interdisciplinary research projects addressing economic inequality in innovative ways and to build multidisciplinary collaborations. More importantly, I had the privilege of engaging in passionate and inspiring conversations with Earl that broadened my views and deepened my commitment to economic justice." -- Dr. Liliana Lengua, former Earl R. Carlson Professor
Outside of academics, Dr. Carlson was a prolific traveler who landed on six continents, often traveling with programs that had a social service or scientific focus. He enjoyed Japanese gardens and prints, collecting art, hiking and mountain climbing, and playing tennis. Dr. Carlson is survived by his wife, two daughters, a stepdaughter, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He will be dearly missed by those who knew and loved him, and his legacy will continue to live on in the Department of Psychology through his steadfast commitment to understanding and mitigating the effects of privilege and inequality on societal well-being.
The following is an interview with Dr. Carlson about his time at UW Psychology and his motivation for establishing two endowed funds in the Department.
Professor Carlson, how did your education at the University prepare you for a lifelong career in psychology?
After two years of credit in engineering I knew that was not for me, and after taking courses in several areas of psychology I discovered "social psychology," which was a perfect blend of my values and interests. I had some excellent courses from Allen Edwards, Paul Horst and others that gave me a great foundation for my doctoral studies at the University of Michigan.
Your gifts are going to develop a specific area of study—one that focuses on privilege—i.e., the importance of differences in the advantages/disadvantages children experience in growing up. What do you find so compelling about this area?
It took me over 50 years as a social psychologist to appreciate as well as I do now the profound pragmatic as well as moral consequences of large differences in social class. Scholars in other disciplines have documented beyond any doubt that the family one is born into today is a far greater source of advantages/disadvantages than race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or other sources of discrimination, but this is not widely understood. The cultural myth that "anyone can make it if they try" ignores the fact that the skills, motivations and other resources required for a successful, satisfying life are all affected enormously by differences in relative privilege coming from parental values, knowledge, affluence, social status, and social connections—as well as from institutional biases that advantage the affluent, and are far greater in this society than in other developed nations.
When I think internationally I worry greatly about the fate of civilized life as we know it. As we now know, terrorism works—for example—and there will never be a way to defend against it. Technological developments make it easier each year for smaller groups to do enormous damage. The only hope I can see is to reduce the level of anger in the world—anger that comes from deprivation, frustration and humiliation. And these derive substantially from inequities in opportunities within and across societies. We need to understand the role of inequalities, and we need to work as soon as possible to reduce them.
Why did you come to UW Psychology with your proposal?
I've always had an enormously fond feeling about the university, having been born in Seattle, and growing up and doing my undergraduate studies here. But also critical was my appreciation for the strength of the department as a whole, and of the faculty in areas relevant to the program I had in mind. After my first visit back here I knew this was the right place.
What advice might you give to other alumni or friends of psychology that might be considering a gift?
First, I really know—without a doubt—that this program will make some important contributions over time, and that it will grow as others see its importance. Beyond the conceptual goals I've mentioned, we will be in the forefront in introducing privilege as an interdisciplinary area of study, and we will use the graduate fellowships to engage new scholars in research on issues of relative privilege. In 2005 we plan to have the first of a series of conferences on the campus on these issues.
I can tell you that it warms my heart whenever I think about giving to an endeavor that might help those who are largely disadvantaged in the world today. We surely cannot know what the long-term effects will really be, but we can try!
And it feels great that this will be a lasting legacy! Whatever I—or you—give to the University Foundation is invested, earning an average of about ten percent interest. Half of this is available each year for the project one chooses, and most of the rest accumulates to provide even more funds for the following years. In this way your gift will grow, and will fund your project forever—theoretically. And if you donate appreciated assets, such as property, mutual funds, etc., the tax advantages are astounding, I found. I will add that we need only $40,000 more in donations for this program in order to receive an additional $50,000 from the University's matching fund. This will help enormously to support graduate students in study of these issues.