ALUMNI PROFILES • Spring 2001

Using the Law to Combat Domestic Violence

Nina Balsam, J.D. '76

Nina Balsam is blunt about her career plans: She wants to change the world by helping those without power become empowered. Although such a plan may sound grandiose, she thinks it's achievable.

"That came from my parents who were progressive people, who taught us a lot about oppression and fighting against it. Both my twin brother and I grew up feeling strongly about injustice," Balsam says.

Balsam is the legal advocacy projects director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence and has devoted her career to helping abused women and their children. Her twin went on to become the commissioner of public health in Brookline, Massachusetts.

"For both of us, it was never an option to be mainstream or look for a job that had to do with making a lot of money," Balsam explains. "When I took the job with the coalition, I took a $20,000 pay cut."

Prior to that 1998 career jump, Balsam had been managing attorney at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. While working at Legal Services—having been sent there through a civil clinic at the University's School of Law—Balsam first became aware of the need for change in domestic violence. She then applied for the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program and asked to be placed again with Legal Services.

"Almost every one of my clients was a domestic violence victim, and there weren't laws to assist them," she says.

This exposure inspired action. Balsam is often recognized for co-authoring Missouri's Adult Abuse Remedies Law. The 1980 law allows victims of abuse to obtain emergency orders of protection. "I feel as if maybe somebody else would have done that," she says. But the law was passed after she lobbied nonstop for three years in Jefferson City, Missouri.

"There was a lot of prejudice against women and the issue of domestic violence in the Missouri legislature. It wasn't a pleasant experience." She went on to defend the constitutionality of that law in 1981 before the Missouri Supreme Court.

Balsam has also founded and authored numerous projects that have changed people's lives: the Lasting Solutions Project, designed to deliver comprehensive legal and support services to victims of abuse; the Pro Se Divorce Clinic; and the Adult Abuse Committee of the Young Lawyers Section of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis. She is a member of U.S. Representative Richard Gephardt's (D-Mo.) Domestic Violence Task Force and serves on the board of directors of the South Side Day Nursery, a day-care program for children who are, by and large, from low-income families.

Acknowledging her many efforts, the St. Louis Metropolitan Region of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence named an award after Balsam and presented her with the first Nina Balsam Meritorious Service Award in 1996. She was also among the first recipients of the Sunshine Peace Award, a national award honoring those who work in the field of domestic violence.

"What I think I do more than anything is work hard and struggle through things," Balsam says. She believes Washington University's School of Law primed her for that. "It prepared me for ... analyzing things in a certain way and not giving up."

Awards and projects aside, Balsam's proudest achievement is her 18-year-old daughter, Marcie. "She's a strong woman with a strong work ethic, and she's pretty cool about a woman's place in the world. That's what I want for women in general," she says. "If women have options, they're going to be able to get out of bad situations."

—Hillary Wicai

 


 

Counseling Others on Cultural Identity

Thomas A. Parham, M.A. '78

When African Americans seek counseling, Thomas A. Parham believes therapists need to consider using a different approach to help them. "The difficulty with traditional psychology is that it has created a homogeneous normative standard against which all cultural groups are measured," he says. "Anything therapists see that's different is often considered inferior or deficient."

Parham, a psychologist and assistant vice chancellor for counseling and health services at the University of California at Irvine, researches racial identity development and multicultural counseling. In his work as a psychologist and author, he emphasizes that African Americans should be counseled to understand the origins of their identity and value systems, and how to balance two competing world views-one African and the other European American. The African world view links contemporary African-American life to the traditions, values, and spiritual essence of their African ancestors.

"Most people of African descent are looking for a sense of personal affirmation," he says. "They need to figure out how to maintain a sense of cultural integrity in a world that does not support and affirm their humanity as a person of color."

Parham is the author and co-author of three books, Psychological Storms: The African American Struggle for Identity and The Psychology of Blacks: An African Centered Perspective (2nd and 3rd editions).

After growing up in Los Angeles, he received a bachelor's degree in social ecology from the University of California at Irvine. In his degree program, Parham focused on human development and community mental health. "My sense of self always has been anchored in trying to help people and be a healing presence in their lives."

As a child, Parham was taught to pursue his natural talents. "I was raised in a value system that taught us to be thankful for what we had in life but also to recognize that each person has been blessed with gifts to use and share."

At the University of California at Irvine, Parham was greatly influenced by Professor Joseph White, whom he calls one of the fathers of the contemporary African-American psychology movement. White and other mentors helped Parham see he had a knack for psychology.

He completed a master's degree in counseling psychology at Washington University in 1978 and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1982. After teaching on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania for three years, he returned to the University of California at Irvine as director of the Career and Life Planning Center and the Counseling Center. In addition to his other responsibilities, he remains director of the Counseling Center as well as serving as an adjunct faculty member. Parham also is a past president of the National Association of Black Psychologists and of the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development.

Many faculty and staff at Washington University, he says, helped him develop professionally. "They taught me important academic curriculum and lessons about life, and I learned how necessary it is to persevere through adversity," he says. Parham also discovered the variety of career paths in the counseling profession. Through course work at WU, and a practicum in the Counseling Center at Harris-Stowe Teachers College (now Harris-Stowe State College), he was exposed to teaching, workshops, program development, and individual counseling.

"Washington University gave me a good platform," he says. "The socialization there provided me with the perspective to see how my talents could be used as a healing presence in people's lives."

—Diane Duke Williams

 


 

Hitchhikers Guide to Adventure

Walter Lehmann, A.B. '50

Walter Lehmann and his wife, Heide, (see photo at right) have become known as the "grandpa and grandma of hitchhiking." Married some 25 years, they have traveled through more than 25 countries together—mostly hitchhiking. Over the years, they have been picked up by thousands of different people, including a bio-chicken-farmer, two Gypsies, a geologist, a bullfighter, and a priest.

"The reason we prefer to hitchhike is to meet people and to get into the inside of countries, not merely see the sights," says Lehmann. "And then we get lots of information, which we use to give travelogues in all of Austria, especially in schools. We want to tell people, especially young people, about other cultures, to open their eyes and break down a lot of the prejudices."

The Lehmanns nominally live in Villach, Austria, but by virtue of their extensive travels, they are really citizens of the world. Because of their age, they have attracted considerable attention and have repeatedly appeared on national television and radio networks.

Their two-month hitchhiking jaunt through Alaska in 1998 put them on the Alaska evening news several times and merited an article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. According to the paper, the couple visited 13 Alaskan cities; it took "65 benevolent drivers—in everything from a two-seater to an RV 'half a block long'—to make the circuit."

The news coverage brought them such attention that "drivers actually were standing in line to give us rides," writes Lehmann in one of the couple's yearly newsletters for family and friends, detailing their most recent travels. He adds that, "People would race past, slam on their brakes, back up, and say, 'Oh, we know you! Get in!'"

Even before he met Heide, Lehmann had traveled extensively. Born in Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany, in 1926, he emigrated with his father, both of them Jewish, to St. Louis in 1937, when Adolf Hitler was in power. He returned to Germany when he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. His last post, which lasted two years, was at the Nuremberg war crime trials.

Upon his return to the United States, Lehmann attended Washington University, earning his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1950. Then he earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Saint Louis University in 1954. He first worked as a researcher in the chemical and aerospace industries. Ultimately, he published some 40 articles in refereed journals. He went on to teach at the University of California, Los Angeles and Riverside, at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and as a visiting professor at several German universities. Then he retired—at age 46.

More remarkable than his early retirement is the fact that he made a two-year trip around the world even before launching his professional career. After completing his Ph.D., he hitchhiked from St. Louis to California, caught a freighter to Japan, and then traveled as the mood took him. He says he spent seven months just in India.

How can he afford such extensive travel? "I have always lived frugally," says Lehmann. In Heide, he found his soul mate. After retiring in 1972, he moved to Austria, where he met Heide when she was giving a slide talk about that country. They both share a love of travel, have a natural gift for language, and are fascinated by culture, history, geology, and nature. Spontaneity is their guiding philosophy. When they take a trip, they plan to spend several months so they can really see things. And while they research their trips, they make no advance reservations. For the Lehmanns, each trip is an adventure, and each driver who picks them up a potential new friend.

—Cynthia Cummings