Symbols of Courage
Inspired by personal experience, Dickinsons help students
learn a collaborative approach to mental health care
NEARLY 15 YEARS AGO, Luke Dickinson left
his home in Alaska to attend Seattle Pacific
University. His parents, Jacqueline and Lewis
Dickinson, bid farewell to their college-bound
son with the usual mix of sadness, pride,
and hope that any parent feels when a child
leaves the nest. But the couple was devastated
to receive word mid-school year that
Luke was hospitalized and then subsequently
diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Impressed by the way SPU faculty and
staff shepherded their son in his time of
need, and concerned for others in similar
situations, the Dickinsons made a long-term
financial commitment to Seattle Pacific — one that would fund new programs designed to care for individuals and families who suffer from severe and persistent mental illnesses.
By establishing an SPU-managed Special Needs Trust, the Dickinsons ensured that their own son would receive quality, personalized care after they were gone, and for as long as he lived. “We were jointly able to develop a plan that would benefit our family through a charitable remainder trust with SPU as the remainder beneficiary, and a Special Needs Trust with Luke as the beneficiary,” explains Lewis Dickinson.
The Dickinsons also wanted to support Seattle Pacific students interested in careers that serve mentally ill populations. As a result, they helped launch the Living Well Initiative at SPU, which includes the Dickinson Fellowship, a multidisciplinary learning experience for undergraduate and graduate students in psychology, marriage and family therapy, and nursing.
Dickinson Fellows receive partial tuition reimbursement for a full academic year’s sequence of readings, seminars, conferences, guest lectures, and other training experiences, as directed by faculty mentors from two SPU schools: the School of Health Sciences, and the School of Psychology, Family, and Community. “This allows us to help future health care professionals learn more about issues of mental health, understand stigmas, and embrace families and individuals who are struggling,” explains Professor of Nursing Kathleen Stetz, who says the Dickinson Fellowship is unique in academia.
“There is very little funding for the study of mental health, whether it be in nursing or psychology,” she continues. “Our society still sees mental illness as a stigmatizing condition — just as cancer and AIDS used to be. I’m hopeful that will change.”
While Stetz brings community health expertise to the program, Assistant Professor of Graduate Psychology Marcia Webb provides psychological insight. “Each discipline [nursing and psychology] has its own language,” says Webb. “Fellows expand their understanding of each other’s ‘languages’ and learn how each discipline can contribute to holistic treatment. There can be turf wars in health care settings; this program gives students a chance to work together and to realize that collaboration is best in mental health care.”
Last year, Lewis and Jacqueline Dickinson visited one of the fellow’s classes. “They have a personal investment in this,” says Webb. “They care greatly about issues related to the church and mental health, and they are a symbol of courage and hope. Because of their investment, we feel an important responsibility to do right by them.”
To date, 28 students have completed the Dickinson Fellowship program. “I have heard it said that fear of the unknown is what keeps us from engaging the world,” says one recent graduate. “The Fellowship gave me an opportunity to learn more about a group of people who are often feared and stigmatized. The knowledge I have gained … equipped [me] to serve this unique group of people and to address their issues with a greater degree of compassion.”
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