picture of Braxton Clark

Braxton Clark


Developing Competencies and Leadership 

“Kindness lives here.” Those words, penned by Philadelphia Poet Laureate Trapeta B. Mayson, are well known to anyone who has passed over the center circle of Marywood’s Rotunda. That simple phrase, the first line of a poem by the same name and first used to reflect Mayson’s observations during her collaboration with the Pa Kindness Poem Project, was adopted as an informal mantra for Marywood students, staff, and faculty to reflect upon in their day-to-day comings and goings. As part of this initiative, circular decals were placed at high-traffic areas throughout campus as a reminder of Marywood’s favored trait. 

The same phrase can be used to describe fourth-year doctoral student Braxton Clark. When speaking with Clark, one finds that she has a lot of sought-after qualities. She had the athletic skill to play Division I (D1) soccer at Delaware State University; the courage and eloquence to speak out against racial injustice; and the pluck to pick herself up when others sought to tear her down. In short, Clark is a leader in every sense of the word. Of all the qualities she strives to embody, however, the source of Clarke’s acumen for leadership is kindness.

“Being kind is easy, and it’s free,” Clark said. “I try constantly to carry that energy with me when I’m with a client and even when I’m just interacting with anybody.”

Clark found her way to Marywood while looking for doctoral programs in Psychology. She found Marywood’s dual program offering a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in just five years. The deadline to apply was the week after Clark’s s initial discovery of the program.

“I took it as a sign,” She said. “I sent in my application, and I got to meet with professors in the department for my admissions interview. I liked them, and they really seemed to like me, and here I am.”

While her story of finding Marywood appears straightforward enough, the plethora of experiences that give nuances to her professional and academic trajectory are varied, to say the least. 

Before she was a D1 collegiate athlete, a doctoral student, or even a graduate student. Clark was a dedicated soccer player and student from Orange County, New York. As such, she was exposed to the physical and mental demands placed on students in competitive school districts. The soccer practices were grueling. The team’s rules were strict. The academics were rigorous.

Granted admission to the varsity team after an uphill battle with a coach who didn’t believe in her ability to play after a minor injury, Clark noticed the intensity of the varsity team increased sharply during her freshman year. 

“They were really trying to instill discipline in the team,” Clark said. “So they started making rules about things that you can’t really control at fourteen. If you were late, the coach made a big deal about it and would try to make an example of you to the rest of the team.”

Students who couldn’t find a ride to practice because of their parents’ work schedules were routinely told that they weren’t serious or didn’t care about the team, and they would lose their playing spots for the upcoming games. Should mistakes be made on the field during a game, then, post-game, five 120-yard sprints were run as punishment.

“Over time, I just started to feel what I thought was guilt on the way to practice, and I would be sweating so much and almost in tears if I was late. Same thing with my teammates. We would be really quiet around our coach, and it just felt off. I didn’t feel as comfortable as I should have, or as I had felt previously without that pressure. And it affected everyone’s mentality differently.” Clark said the effects of anxiety and depression were not evident to her at the time, but her coursework in psychology allowed her to put a name to what she and her teammates experienced. 

“I was only 14,” She said. “I didn’t know, so I watched the effects of that type of coaching on my teammates. Over time, I learned I wasn’t guilty of anything. It was anxiety, and looking back at those moments, I realized I really could have used help back then. I want to make sure I give that help when I start my practice.”

The soccer field wasn’t the only place Clark experienced adversity. Clark was held out of an honors class that many of her white teammates had gained access to, because the principal did not think she could handle the workload, given her athletic involvement. Clark said, “It was overt and confusing to me as a kid, because you kind of know what racism is, but you don’t really understand it.”

Her battle to make the varsity team followed a similar path. “It was a struggle, and, thankfully, I never had anything horrible and crazy happen, but it was these tiny microaggressions, these little, innocuous things that would confuse me and make me think less of myself, that were really hard to understand back then,” she said.

Amidst all of the self-doubt Clark faced throughout her journey and the challenges she overcame in discovering what and who she wanted to be, she relied heavily on the example set by her family. In particular, her grandmother, Gwendolyn Morgan, a social worker and former teacher in New York City. Morgan helped raise Clark and her siblings. Her quick wit and fearless, supportive disposition were inspirational for Clark as she found her way into adulthood and ultimately her professional training.

“She was one of the best friends I’ve ever had,” Clark said. “She was an advocate, a fierce fighter for her friends and family, and she believed in me even before I believed in myself. Her nickname for me was Sunshine, because she always said I could light up a whole room. Like I said, I always try to be nice, because it is easy and free, and my grandma always told me I was good at it.”

Clark’s devotion to kindness, as well as her craft, informed her actions as captain of Del State’s D1 soccer team. “My experiences and my knowledge of psychology made me very aware of my team. I made sure I was tuned into the general mood and their emotions, and I really tried hard to bolster an uplifting atmosphere for my team.” Clark said. “Conversely, being a team captain also made me approach my studies a little differently. Sports psychology was always an area I was really interested in. Having a coach that was interested in learning and bringing sports psychology into the team’s culture gave me the opportunity to take what I was learning in the classroom and apply it on the field.” 

Clark was able to strengthen the bond between her college team and their coach during her tenure as captain. She was also able to hone the confidence and communication skills she would need, not only to serve others, but also advocate on behalf of those without a voice.

“I think that D1 sports-focused environment really engrains a sense of confidence in you and a certain level of fight that really started to define me during the riots of 2020,” Clark said. “Following Georg Floyd’s death, I was given the opportunity to speak at my hometown’s rally, where I was able to share my experiences and those of others that I met. It was a meaningful moment for me to advocate for a positive change in my community.”

Now Clark is able to flex both her leadership skills and her natural inclination toward kindness as a member of the Marywood community and of Upside, a campus-hosted organization promoting the inclusion of underrepresented demographics in the field of psychology. 

“In undergrad, I had this experience where I didn't have a lot of resources. When I came to Marywood, I wanted to be able to do something that fixed that for those who came after me. So the fact that Marywood has Upside, which connects underrepresented groups in the field of psychology, was awesome,” she said. 

Through Upside, Clark and other members are able to learn about groups that may not be broadly represented in their own backyards as well as have discussions about the unique perspective certain conditions bolster on a group of people. 

“They’re uncomfortable discussions at times,” Clark said, “but they are real-world issues with real-world effects on people who are going to be our clients. It is so important to learn how to have those conversations as a psychologist and as a member of society. You need to learn how to be uncomfortable in the face of another person’s viewpoint and how to still connect with them despite the disagreement. From these conversations, I learned a couple of really important things. Mostly, not all opinions are going to stack up the way you think. Most importantly, Upside gave me the opportunity to see how sensitive and accepting my predominantly white classmates were of my opinions and insights. It has allowed me to further develop and grow as a leader and an individual.”

Once Clark graduates from her program, she aspires to open her own practice and provide early intervention services for school-aged children suffering from anxiety and depression.

For students looking to begin their journey in psychology, she offers this advice:

“Everybody has imposter syndrome, but you have to remind yourself why you're here. I had so many doubts before going for my doctoral degree, but I still went ahead and did it anyway. You just have to keep reminding yourself that you’ve already done all of this, you can do this too.”

As Clark continues on her trek to completing the doctoral segment of her program, she keeps her nuanced life experience close and her grandmother’s example of leadership and courage even closer.