In Memoriam: Aaronette M. White, 1961-2012

Aaronette M. White, associate professor of psychology and associate dean of equity and social responsibility in the Division of Social Sciences of the University of California at Santa Cruz, died unexpectedly at the age of 51. Sheldon Kamieniecki, dean of the Division of Social Sciences at the university, issued a statement that said, “She was a gifted professor of social psychology who loved teaching and was beloved by her students. She was an exceptional scholar who believed in putting theory into everyday life.”

Dr. White joined the faculty at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 2008. Previously, she had taught at Pennsylvania State University, Harvard University, the University of Amsterdam, and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. Dr. White was a graduate of the University of Missouri and held a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis.

Dr. White was the editor of the book African Americans Doing Feminism: Putting Theory Into Everyday Practice (State University of New York Press, 2010). She also was the author of Ain’t I a Feminist? African American Men Speak Out on Fatherhood, Friendship, Forgiveness, and Freedom (State University of New York Press, 2008). At the time of her death she was working on two books dealing with her time teaching in Ethiopia on a Fulbright Fellowship.

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  1. Soror Dr. Aaaronette White was not only a gifted scholar and educator, but she also cared for her community–worldwide. She will be sorely missed because of her caring spirit and love of life.

  2. I took Dr. White’s African American Psychology course two years ago, and it changed my life. While taking the class, I learned how oppression, discrimination, and cultural bias still permeate through our society; I’ve learned a lot of the horrible issues that the Euro-centric media has kept out, but also of the good people can do to combat such horrible practices, which also get little to no coverage. It’s because of her philosophy and her teaching methods that I’ve developed a passion for learning about different cultures and their role in society. Thank you, Dr. White. You were an amazing individual because you cared, but you didn’t coddle. You challenged everyone around you to think for themselves and to contribute to the world around them regardless of race, sex, gender, or sexuality, and for that, I thank you. I’m sorry I could never tell you how much you meant to me as a professor until it was too late. But, I’ll say it now. THANK YOU

  3. I am in shock. I just thought about Aaronnette yesterday. I was adding material to one of my courses and planned to incorporate her work. Every time we saw each other at conferences we vowed to work on a project together.

    She will be missed. Dr. Aaronnette White was a creative scholar; and a warm and giving person.

  4. I am shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden loss of my colleague and friend. Aaronette was a fierce, gifted scholar and a warm, genuine person who could not help but touch those around her. She is a great loss to the profession and to those of us who were lucky enough to know her personally. It is hard to believe that we will not hear that joy and enthusiasm in her laugh or the delight in her voice as she greets you at a meeting or gathering. We were indeed fortunate to have had her in our midst for such a brief time.

  5. Aaronette White just crossed my mind, followed by a quiet stream of tears. I first met Dr. White as a doctoral student in counseling psychology at NYU. While conducting research for my dissertation on prosocial behavior among African Americans, I came across her article, “Talking Feminist, Talking Black: Micromobilization Processes in a Collective Protest Against Rape.” I was in awe of her scholarship. It would be years before I would meet her again, this time in person at the 2007 Association of Black Psychologists convention in Houston, TX. I attended her talk, “All the Men are Fighting for Freedom, All the Women are Mourning Their Men, But Some of Us Carried Guns: A Raced-Gendered Analysis of Fanon’s Psychological Perspectives on War.” Oh my goodness! Her thinking was lucid, sharp, penetrating. She was simply brilliant! And she was warm, and she was encouraging, and, at the banquet later that night, I learned that she could shimmy down a soul train line with the best of them! Her smile was bright and beautiful. Her demeanor, gentle and powerful. She was luminescent. That was my only in-person experience with Aaronette. But, you know how there are some people that you meet and feel instantly bonded to? An instant and lasting sense of kindredness? That’s how I felt upon meeting Aaronette at that conference. A little more than a year would pass before I realized that I was feeling a re-membering of a feeling that I had as a doctoral student reading a certain Black woman’s scholarship on Black community mobilization against rape. This was that same spirit. Aaronette and I did not stay in touch over the years, but I always remembered her, and she remembered me. And when I found my non-conventional Black feminist psychological sensibility unpopular with some of my more conservative colleagues in the academy, one of the people I thought to reach out to for advice was the non-conventional, road less travelled Aaronette White. It did not matter that I had not spoken to her in 5 years. I knew that she would be receptive to my cry, and she was. We talked for hours that Saturday afternoon in June 2012. She generously and candidly shared her professional narrative, including her deep sense of purpose and commitment to the liberation of African people the world over, her anxieties and insecurities at different junctures along the way, the wrong turns, and complete debacles, her incredible sources of familial and collegial support (I remember distinctly her speaking of the formative guidance she received from her mother to say whatever you want…respectfully, and her closeness with her family), and her love of teaching. Never did I imagine that Aaronette would transition from this earthly world less than two months after that conversation. Sometimes I feel cheated. I want her here, continuing to light a path toward liberation through her scholarship and community work for us young Black feminist scholars. Inevitably, Spirit brings me back to a sense of reassurance that she is still here continuing to light a path 🙂

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