Author, educator, and psychologist Dr. Melvin P. Sikes was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the renowned unit of African American fighter pilots who flew during World War II. After the war, he embarked on a career in academic psychology that eventually led him to the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a professor of education psychology and a one-time member of the Hogg Foundation’s National Advisory Council. For Black History Month, we are taking a look back at this remarkable man and his impact. 

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Today on Into the Fold, we’re drawing from the Hogg Foundation archives to share a recorded broadcast of The Human Condition. Airing from 1971 to 1983 and hosted by former Hogg program officer Bert Kruger Smith, this unique radio show featured conversations spanning the full range of human interest involving mental health. 

Smith interviews Dr. Sikes about the creation of the Center for Improvement of Intergroup Relations at UT, as well as other matters close to his heart as a member of the University community during a period of rapid social change. Luester Batieste and Sandy Chatham, students of Dr. Sikes and staff members at the Center, contribute to the conversation as well. 

Providing additional context and commentary on Dr. Sikes’ work from a contemporary perspective are Ike Evans, Hogg Foundation communications manager, and Elizabeth Stauber, the foundation’s archivist and records manager. 

Center for Improvement of Intergroup Relations 

In addition to his professorial role within academia, Dr. Melvin Sikes took on a significant community-facing role as the founder of the Center for Improvement of Intergroup Relations (Center). As an important field of sociological study in the 1970s, intergroup relations sought to better understand the perceptions, thoughts, and interactions between people of differing social groups, particularly as it related to the civil rights movement. 

“The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s led social scientists to study prejudice, discrimination, and collective action in the context of race in America,” says Elizabeth. 

Dr. Sikes envisioned the Center playing an important role in connecting the academic community at UT with the larger Austin community. 

“People often feel that the university is not concerned with the ‘man out there in the field’,” said Dr. Sikes. “We are. And we want to show that concern in the way that we can best do it.” 

Continuity with the Hogg Foundation 

Under the direction of Dr. Wayne H. Holtzman, the Hogg Foundation supported the development of the Center and its four areas of focus: research, sharing expertise, community engagement, and the creation of an informational database. Indeed, a continuity of shared priorities can be seen between the two organizations. 

For example, to ensure it truly met the needs of the community it served, the Center researched and measured the impact of its programming. Similarly, the Hogg Foundation strives to continually learn and improve as an organization by evaluating our impact at the community level and providing financial support for UT students conducting research in the behavioral health field. 

The Center also enabled smaller community organizations to “do their own thing” by providing access to resources and information rather than issuing directives, an approach that closely resembles the Hogg’s focus on community-led initiatives. 

Student Involvement 

Students of Dr. Sikes, such as Sandy Chatham and Luester Batiste, also went beyond the classroom to support the Center as volunteers and staff members. 

Reflecting on her experiences as a student in Dr. Sikes’ Cultural Deprivation course, Sandy described the evolution of her attitudes and behaviors toward people of different races and ethnicities and how it motivated her to join the Center’s staff. 

“There’s such a tremendous demand to work out intergroup problems,” she said. “There’s always more to be done.” 

Luester expressed similar feelings about her experiences in Sikes’ classroom and at the Center. 

“I became more aware of my Blackness after coming to UT,” Luester said. “When I found myself, I found I was able to help other people. I try to reach people of all ages to help them feel proud of being Black. Much of this has come from my being at the Center.” 

Congress of Black Professors in Higher Education 

Dr. Sikes also established the National Congress of Black Professors in Higher Education (Congress) through the Center. 

“The idea for the Congress grew out of some of my own frustrations, and some of the things I hear other Black professors talking about,” he said. “Black professors are asking ‘Where do we belong? Should we be in a white institution, or should we be in a Black institution? Where can we best give our services?” 

The Congress provided an opportunity to gather in community and a platform to address Black professors’ questions. 

“These questions not only affected us as professors, but they also affected what we meant to our students,” says Dr. Sikes. “If we were using energy struggling about this, worrying about our place, that was energy we ought to be using in teaching.” 

The Hogg Foundation again offered support, providing funding for the Congress with its largest grant award of that year.  

Well-being for All Texans 

Elizabeth points out the Center and Congress are both consistent with the Hogg Foundation’s surging interest in the well-being of Black and Brown Texans during the 1970s. Another example is the Crystal City project, an innovative effort to build a mental health outreach program for the predominantly rural, Spanish-speaking, and economically underserved area of Zavala County, in South Texas. 

“How far back and deep the concern the Hogg Foundation has had for the mental health of all Texans is always inspiring to see,” says Elizabeth.  


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