Student Spotlight February 2024

    Reginald Wesley

    Reginald Wesley is in his last semester of the Master of Science in Social Work program, with anticipated graduation for May 2024. Reginald earned his BS in Business Administration and MBA from Florida A&M University. Reginald and his wife, Shara, share 4 children, Jaden, Reggie II, Zora, and Solomon. 


    Q: What brought you to the University of Louisville?

    A: I started my MSSW journey in an in-person program at Clark Atlanta University. However, my wife got a job relocating us back to Indianapolis. Having been born and raised in Louisville, growing up a Cardinal fan, and the Kent School’s HBCU Cardinal Express to Success program was all I needed to come back “home.”

    Q: What is your specific areas of research and why does it interest you?

    A: I have so many interests:

    • Black People and Mental Health: There were so many things I learned growing up that are not only wrong but are harmful to the Black community. I am glad to see a growing acceptance of therapy and mental health in the Black community, and I want to be part of this transformation. 
    • The Black Church and Mental Health: I was raised in the Black Church and will always love the Black Church, faults and all. It is my hope to understand why certain beliefs are spread and research evidence-based practices to counteract those misconceptions so that Black people are healed and not harmed.
    • The Afrocentric Perspective: As a social worker who seeks to specialize in the needs of Black people, it is imperative that I recognize and acknowledge the influences of both Eurocentric and Afrocentric perspectives on the lives of my future clients. If I do not, I will be unable to meet their needs, especially as it relates to oppressive and racist environments (Manning, Cornelius, & Okundaye, 2004). With the Eurocentric perspective being the cause of so much literal and metaphorical pain for Black people— it is absurd to expect therapeutic interventions in the United States, which are either viewed through or based on Eurocentric ideals, to serve a benefit to Black people (Schiele, 1996, 1997). It is important to me that I serve as a refuge to Black clients seeking a practitioner that understands their cultural needs, which is why I will utilize the Afrocentric perspective in my social work practice. 
    • Masculinity/Fatherhood/Husband: Growing up, I had plenty of examples of the man I did not want to be, but outside of the Cosby Show, not many examples of what I did want to be (and that did not age well). I have come to learn that so much of what I was taught about being a “man” only brought pain to myself and those I was involved with. I want to help men rid ourselves of the expectations that society has placed on us, and instead grow to be the best husbands, fathers, and men we can be instead. 
    • Men’s Role in Domestic/Intimate Partner Violence: It has been my experience that the majority of Domestic Violence work is focused on what the woman should do, should’ve done, etc. But what about the men who are doing the abuse? What should they do? What should they have done? And what about their male friends? What are the doing (or not doing) that makes other men think abuse is acceptable?

    Q: How would you describe your area of study/specific research to your grandmother?

    A: Interestingly enough, my granny and I discuss my path of study all of the time. Sometimes I think she is resistant as she grew up in a time where there were no other options but to make do with what you had. Self-care wasn’t a thing. Mental health wasn’t a luxury she, or anyone she knew, had. She also grew up in a family, and therefore raised me in a family, where people speak the truth, no matter how harshly. We have had lots of conversations regarding communication and how you have to own not only what you say, but also how it is received. We also discuss how helpful is the truth if it is delivered in such a way that the person shuts down. So you got it off your chest but was it helpful? If not, what was the point? While she may not always concede my point(s), I do see her behaviors changing!

    Q: What made you go into this field of study?

    A: In the Black community, whenever a family member or friend experienced any challenge or problem — we told them to pray. It was as simple as that: nothing a little faith could not fix. Therefore, mental health and wellness were not part of my conscious mind throughout my childhood. Depression was something that happened only to the white characters in movies and television. Therapy, similarly, was reserved for rich, white people with trivial problems. Black people in general, and black men in particular, did not need to sit on someone’s couch and talk about our feelings. Instead, we just needed to drop to our knees during Sunday morning altar call.

    It was not until I began my first job, after graduating with my MBA, as a neuroscience pharmaceutical sales representative that I was formally introduced to the complexities of depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and bipolar disorder. Prior to this role, I, like so many in my family and community, did not fully understand the science behind mental health conditions; how, if left untreated, depression alters the neurobiology of the brain. I learned that for people of color, depression and anxiety typically manifests as pain. This often results in a non/misdiagnosis as both the patient and physician alike focus on the physical aspects of the pain alone. While people often debate the benefits of varying treatment options (i.e., medication, therapy, or religion), I discovered they complement each other rather than compete.

    My professional understanding of neuroscience propelled me to embrace therapy as an essential support for my health and personal relationships. Most notably, my premarital and marriage counseling experiences have highlighted the importance of breaking negative behaviors related to relationship building and communication. Therapy/counseling has had an immeasurable impact on both my marriage and my personal well-being.

    However, I still wasn’t ready. I was making good money in sales and marketing; however, my passion was no longer there. My wife and two of my closest friends told me continuously that I would be a great therapist, but I had already decided I was not going back to school. Well, I prayed and prayed for God to give me direction, and that very night, my therapist told me I would make a great therapist!

    Q: How do you think this advanced degree will change your role in society?

    A: My MSSW will allow me to enhance Black people’s mental health and self-esteem through a psychotherapeutic relationship. I will be able to cultivate spaces for their hurt to be heard and give them tools to cope in a world that often neglects and denies their humanity.

    Q: What are your long term goals/aspirations?

    A: I really can’t say. Going into my MSSW, my goal was just to be a therapist. However, the more I learn about social work, the more opportunities I am made aware of to help people. In addition, when I left corporate America, I thought I was leaving leadership behind and relishing the opportunity to help clients one-on-one. However, my current practicum has shown me that I’m not quite ready to leave leadership in my rearview.

    Q: What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?

    A: Transforming generational trauma. Every parent wants their kid(s) to have it better than they did. I know that my grandmother did the best she could with the tools that she had. And lucky for me, she was able to provide me with more than she was given. And now it is my turn to do the same for my children. What does that look like:

    • I didn’t grow up with the best examples of who or what a man should be, yet I strive every day to be the example to my kids that I wish I had growing up.
    • I don’t believe in corporal punishment. If I can’t use my words to communicate with my child effectively, then maybe I should try different words. And what am I teaching them by putting my hands on them: when you get angry, do you hit?
    • I grew up in a time when children were to speak when spoken to but also shouldn’t talk back. Well, I encourage my kids to feel their feelings and express themselves. I can’t say it's always easy; however, every day I am amazed at the fantastic young men and women they are growing up to be.

    Q: What has been your favorite part of the graduate school experience at UofL?

    A: My children often think I am being unreasonable as I push them toward academic excellence. However, they have witnessed my graduate school experience: active father, present husband, go to work, get off, go to my practicum, read/do homework, attend their games, go to Donuts with Dads, etc., all while getting straight A’s! It has been wonderful to show them that I am not asking them to do anything that I don’t require of myself.

    Q: What do you feel is the greatest challenge that graduate students face and how have you dealt with this challenge?

    A: My greatest challenge is juggling: where do I find the time (and energy) to show up as the husband I want to be, the student I want to be, the father I want to be, the employee I need to be, and the intern who is trying to master skills, all while assignments are due, there are kids’ basketball games to go, etc. For me, that just means less sleep and more coffee!

    I also try to incorporate what I’m learning in school to my family life. As social workers, we believe in the dignity and self-worth of a person. We believe they have the right to self-determination. I apply these principles to my kids as well. I try to do more guiding than instructing as I have realized my kids are brighter than I could have ever imagined. I believe that social work has made me a better husband, a better father, and a better friend.

    Awards, honors, publications:

    • Phi Alpha Social Work Honor Society
    • HBCU Cardinal Express to Success Scholar
    • Survivor Link Fellow


    Fun Facts

    A talent you have always wanted: Basketball! I LOVE to play basketball as it is the only thing that doesn’t feel like exercise to me, but it is definitely not a talent the good Lord blessed me with! And now that you’ve got me thinking, I guess I would say singing too. My grandmother is a great singer, and I grew up singing in the church choir and even middle school chorus until puberty nipped that in the bud.

    Favorite quote: “We are, therefore I am” is a core component of the Afrocentric Perspective and my life’s testimony. As a Black man, I recognize that I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and elders. Each accomplishment is reflective of my grandmother who raised me, mentors who took an active interest in me, and teachers who nurtured what they saw in me. It was this community of believers and supporters that continue to anchor me in social support. I am nothing without those who have come before me and those who have and continue to pour into me.

    Role model: My granny, hands down. Never have I met someone so selfless, who always gave to others when I knew we didn’t have it to give. Through her example, she taught me service, sacrifice, faith, and love. Even though she worked two/three jobs (some of which we worked together), she always kept me in church, made time for my extracurricular activities, and made me rake my neighbor’s yard and shovel her driveway.

    Favorite thing to do or place to go in Louisville: I haven’t lived in Louisville since I left for college, so I don’t really know where to go as an adult. However, I don’t get home much, so when I do, I spend most of my time at my granny’s house. But when I do come home, there are two things I must have: 1) Indi’s chicken and wedges and 2) White Castles!

    If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now? If not for graduate school, I would likely still be the category manager for the world’s #1 facial tissue. I had to quit last semester to make room for my practicum hours.