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William E. Cross Jr.
*The birth of William Cross is celebrated on this date in 1940. He is a Black educator, theorist, and psychology researcher in ethnic identity development, specifically Black identity development.
William E. Cross Jr. was born in Evanston, Illinois, the son of Bill and Margaret Cross. He was the fourth child and first son; his father was a Pullman porter, a steady job resulting in economic security, and his mother worked at different times as a maid and a factory worker. He attended McCosh Elementary School in Chicago. He graduated from Evanston Township High School (ETHS) in Evanston in 1959. Four of his siblings also attended ETHS, but Bill was the only one of them to attend college.
He received a B.A. in psychology from the University of Denver (D.U.) in 1963 and was the President of the C.O. Alpha Beta chapter of Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. While at D.U., Cross seriously questioned his religious beliefs and eventually denounced God because he couldn't explain slavery or the Holocaust. These revelations influenced his later work, especially the transition stage of his model (Immersion-Emersion). Cross worked on his master's in clinical psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he became familiar with the stages of therapy during clinical training.
Around this time, in 1968, the Association of Black Psychologists (ABP) was founded, and its members came "to the realization that they are Black people first and psychologists second." After the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Consciousness Movement largely influenced his formulation of the nigrescence theory. This theory explained the variance of identities and how this related to the fluctuation that accompanies social movements. During the Vietnam War, Cross became the Director of the West Side Service Center (WSSC) in Evanston, IL. He was in charge of creating proactive programs to engage the youth of Evanston. He regularly attended OBAC (Organization of Black American Culture) meetings during this time.
He saw that black identity conversion transcended social class and learned that the "identity must be complemented by material change or else one is forced to fall back on a survival mode." He was assistant to the Chair of Afro-American Studies at Princeton University starting in 1969. Cross began meeting with black psychologist William S. Hall during his time at Princeton. Hall helped Cross devise ways to test his model empirically. The items they created for a Q-sort experiment would eventually influence the first version of the Racial Identity Attitude Scale (RIAS). "The Negro-to-Black Conversion Experience: Toward a Psychology of Black Liberation" was published in the 1971 issue of Black World, Hoyt Fuller's journal, based in Atlanta. With pressure building against the Black Movement in the 1970s, Fuller shut down Black World.
Shortly after that, Hall published the results of his empirical study in 1972, later referred to as the Hall-Cross Model. In 1976, Cross completed doctoral studies in Psychology at Princeton University. Cross met Dawn Monique Jackson at Princeton's Assistant Director of Admissions at Princeton, and the two eventually married. Their only daughter, Tuere Binta Cross, now holds an MSW degree from NYU and is currently employed as a social worker in Denver.
After graduating from Princeton, Cross became an Assistant Professor at Cornell University in the summer of 1973, where he taught black studies and psychology. Although he began his career as a "social experimental psychologist" at Cornell, he left as a cultural psychologist 21 years later. Cross relates, "As a cultural psychologist, my work examines the cultural, historical, and economic forces shaping human development and everyday psychological functioning in general, and black identity development and functioning in particular." Cross-published Shades of Black in 1991, largely a tribute to his experiences at the Africana Center at Cornell.
He published this text with the help of Henry Louis Gates Jr., who motivated him to write the book, and Robert L. Harris, who introduced him to Janet M. Francendese, a senior editor at Temple University Press. Cross relates that this book was his attempt to refocus black psychology away from self-hatred and the social pathology model, which had largely prevailed during this time, and bring attention to the variability of one's identity and the phenomenon of identity transformation. It largely emphasized the impossibility of describing the black identity as singular or "type ."There is no singular all-encompassing definition of what it means to be black.
Cross relates to this work that he "discovered major shortcomings in [his] original Nigrescence Model." So the second part of Shades of Black includes a revised version of his 1971 Negro-to-Black Conversion Model. Cross left Cornell in 1994 for Pennsylvania State University. While at Penn State, he assembled a research group that experimentally tested and validated the Cross-Racial-Identity-Scale (CRIS), which has become one of the most widely used social identity measures employed by the Division 45 scholars. The CRIS allows for the measurement and operationalization of identity-concept. Cross left Penn State in 2000 to become a part of the Social-Personality Psychology Program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). In 2008, Cross was awarded emeritus status at CUNY, and he continues to serve on dissertation committees in social-personality and developmental psychology for doctoral students at the Graduate Center there.
Cross briefly lived in Henderson, NV, while serving as Counselor in Education at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas. After retiring, Cross and his wife moved to Colorado, although Cross did not remain retired for long. He is the former Coordinator for the Higher Education Program in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. He also serves as the President-Elect of Division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues). In this role, Cross leads the American Psychological Association group to "encourage research on ethnic minority issues and [apply] psychological knowledge to ethnic minority issues ."The American Psychological Association holds an annual convention, and Cross attended the 2014 convention in Washington, D.C. At the convention, Cross emphasized two key topics: (1) the mass incarceration of people of color and (2) the lived experience of LGBT people of color. One of the major focuses of Division 45 is highlighting the roles of women, gay and lesbians, and people with disabilities within the American Psychological Association.
Cross and his daughter have co-authored two works, one on self-concept and the other employing a lifespan perspective to examine racial identity development. Cross and his daughter may write a new article about the role of spirituality and personality development. Cross relates the transition of the Black identity through a five-stage theory of the acquisition of Black identification. He called this theory Nigrescence, translated as: "the process of becoming Black." The five stages of progress are 1. Pre-encounter, 2. Encounter 3. Immersion/Emersion 4. Internalization 5. Internalization-Commitment.
Cross Jr. received the 2009 Annual Social Justice Action Award, awarded by the Teachers College, Columbia University. Georgia Southern University established the Dr. William Cross Jr. Distinguished Lecture Series as part of the GSU-linked annual conference on Cross-Cultural Issues in Counseling and Education. He was the 2014 President of the American Psychological Association's Division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues). He is also a CUNY Professor Emeritus and a Morgridge College of Education Change Agent.