First Black Deaf woman with PhD in Clinical Psychology from Gallaudet University

*Correction: Her first name is Alesia, not Aleisha.

Last Friday, Alesia Howard Allen, a PhD student in Gallaudet’s Clinical Psychology department, successfully defended her dissertation to become the first Black Deaf woman with a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Gallaudet. 

She is not yet officially done with her studies as she still has to complete one year of internship, but she has passed the “peak” of her studies.

There were many people who watched her defense and celebrated with her when she was successful. 

[Images and video of people celebrating and congratulating Aleisha]

Aleisha: Hello! My name is Dr. Alesia Howard Allen! 

Alex: Here is an interview with her. 


What does this moment mean to you?


Whew, really, there’s no words to really describe this feeling right now. Honestly, a little part of me feels like I have to pinch myself to make sure this is all real. I’ve worked so hard for a long time and finally I’ve made it. Did this really happen?

Another part of me is like, AHH…PAH!

I mean…I never thought, for a long time, I would see this day and it’s meaningful. It’s not just for myself, but I want to think about people before me that had their obstacles who’ve tried but maybe didn’t have the opportunity nor the access and more.

I’ve achieved this for them and at the same time, I’m setting a pathway for the future generations to succeed so it is a really meaningful experience.


Why did you decide to go into that field of clinical psychology and what motivated you to go into that field?


Well, honestly, I really had no clue about the field of clinical psychology. I know that since I was young, I had this feeling of wanting to help people. People tend to be drawn to me and I’ve always helped people. I have that natural ability to relate to people. Being able to interpret their experiences, problems and so on. Also, validate their experiences, I think these are key traits I’ve had since I was younger. The goal was to graduate from RIT in their undergraduate program and to become a VR counselor. That was already the goal, but I met a man, Dr. Peter Hauser, who was my professor a long time ago. He saw that I had this potential to succeed. He was a clinical psychologist from Gallaudet. He saw and realized that I could do more. He exposed me to the field which I fell in love with. It was the perfect field for me to go into.

I can’t emphasize enough how it’s so, so important to have a mentor. A person who you cherish. A person who knows the field and can guide you. In addition to that, I think it’s key to have a person, if you’re lucky, I was very fortunate to have Dr. Peter Hauser, but a person of “privilege.” I’m a person of color, so a person with privileges and has access — I’ve capitalized on that. Plus having several people of color who can understand your experiences and navigate you. I think if you have that, you capitalize on that support system. You’ll be off to a good start.

I have to add that I was so touched when one of my former colleagues…she’s a psychologist who worked at Clerc Center at Gallaudet. She brought two young students who were Black to my dissertation defense. That really touched me. I caught a little of…according to people who were there, they said they looked up at me and said I was famous. “What does she do?”

“Is she famous?”

“Will she be on television?”

They asked all these questions.

After I finished my defense, they asked me all these questions which I found really touching.

That shows the impact of how a person of color can become a representation of them and how much influence they can have.

Again, I don’t take that lightly. That’s a big deal. That experience gave me goosebumps and now I’m in a position of power and I’m hoping to use that privilege to create opportunities for these kids so that they can achieve later on.

You know? I almost want to cry thinking about it. There’s a bunch of impacts I can have on these kids.

I was talking about complex academic concepts and they were still fascinated and in shock. It’s now 2019 and still, that’s an issue. I feel that, by now, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. We should be able to approach people. Now, there are kids who still are so shocked that we can succeed as a deaf person, a Black woman, and they can achieve. Wow!

Nowadays, in 2019, we still have that while we’ve improved in terms of accessibility…we still have a lot of work left to do because these kids are still shocked. That was one of my best experiences, at that dissertation defense.


Wow. I really appreciate your time.


Oh sure!


For sharing your experiences. I just want to say congratulations to you.


Thank you again!


On that big achievement. How impressive.


Yes, yes! It was hard, so hard!

But I made it! Thank you so much for doing this story. I appreciate it!