As an art therapist, Hanna Lee understands the importance of creating safe spaces for her clients. As the founder of CATS of Color, she wanted the same kind of place for people of color working towards their master’s degrees to get and offer support as they enter their careers. “The mental health field has historically been so Eurocentric, which has negatively impacted various marginalized populations,” Lee expressed. “With therapists of color entering the field, we have these perspectives to share and help expand the field in ways that it has been stifled before,” she added.
CATS of Color is an organization for graduate students in the Creative Arts Therapies department. It started off, Lee said, offering a sanctuary where they could openly discuss the issues they, as racialized people, do and will continue to face as students and clinicians. Because those in the group have lived experiences perhaps others may not, they are using their agency to initiate transformation in their predominantly white department and beyond. “Lacking the kind of awareness and understanding of how students, clinicians and clients of color experience things differently and have differing needs, we collaborated with CAT program directors and faculty to make changes in practices and curricula,” shared Lee.
The organization has accepted requests from around the University to collaborate on projects, including several with the Drexel Counseling Center. In fact, CATS of Color received the Outstanding Student Program of the Year Award from Drexel University Student Life for a particular three-session workshop entitled “Coping with Creative Arts for Students of Color,” where attendees experienced art, dance/movement, or music methods for stress prevention and management specifically for Drexel's students of color.
“We expected this organization to help initiate change in the curriculum to improve cultural responsiveness within the department,” specified Lee. “While there's no way to know everything about every culture, we hope to bring understanding and greater sensitivity to cultural differences. It is vital for the field," she concluded. Her efforts have produced a refuge for people of color as well as change agents who will create an equitable system for them and future Drexel creative arts therapy students and clinicians.