Standing For the Neglected: Marcia Worrell, 1966-2020

Marcia Worrell, an engaged professor of psychology and psychological researcher, died suddenly on April 14 at age 54. Over the course of her life, she participated in several important reform efforts, forged meaningful international relationships, helped her students to succeed, and contributed meaningfully to broadening the discipline of psychology — theoretically, demographically and even geographically — whether as a member of the Beryl C. Curt collective or the British Psychological Society.

‘Beryl C. Curt’ was the pseudonym for a group of psychologists — Chris Eccleston, Kate Gleeson, Nick Lee, Rex Stainton Rogers, Wendy Stainton-Rogers, Paul Stenner, and Worrell — whose writing aimed to to offer a radical critique and fresh approach to psychology. As part of this group, which Worrell joined while she was on the faculty at Open University, she drew upon her own PhD research to show how problems that are typically tackled at the individual level are related to broader concerns, allowing us to make sense of wicked problems like child abuse. The collective’s magnum opus was 1994’s Textuality and Tectonics: troubling social and psychological science, and many members of the collective remembered Worrell in a widely shared encomium.

Worrell was born to a nurse and a carpenter who had migrated from the Caribbean to north London. In 1985, she began an undergraduate degree in psychology and sociology at the University of Reading, where her experiences would inform the trajectory of her career. She completed her PhD in child abuse and neglect at Open University, making good use of qualitative methodology to deal both sensitively and practically with the topic. She created courses on child welfare and protection, which were especially helpful in light of the 1989 Children’s Act, and cemented her roles as an advocate for survivors. “As her career progressed,” her friend Ian Hodges wrote in The Guardian, “Marcia’s focus expanded, and she became involved in an astonishing number of projects and roles, working in areas such as the psychology of women, of race and ethnicity, social, health and forensic psychology, child abuse and neglect.”

Marcia Worrell

Her first permanent lectureship came in 1992 at the University of Bedfordshire, where she helped create the first British Psychological Society accredited qualification at that university. Reflecting her status at the time as one of the very few black female academic psychologists, she took a role with the British Psychological Society’s Research Board and chaired the Psychology of Women and Equalities Section.

Her contributions to social and feminist psychology extend beyond her work with the British Psychological Society. She served on the editorial board of SAGE’s Feminism & Psychology journal. She was also key in constructing the SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology, a testament to her work in the field.

In 2004, she moved to the University of Roehampton, where she was the programme convenor for psychology. She served on the British Psychological Society Research Board and chaired the Board of the Children’s Legal Centre. In recognition of her work on learning and teaching in higher education, she was awarded the Roehampton Teaching Fellowship from 2010 to 2013.

Described as a “great inspiration to all who knew her,” Worrell committed herself to the upholding of justice and dignity in all that she did (even as her sense of mischief was said to be contagious). Colleagues and her former students recalled her dedication as a teacher; “She’d make u laugh out loud & feel warm inside. A ball of energy, emanating light. An inspirational mentor with unwavering support,” tweeted health psychologist Angel Chater.

Worrell’s commitments extend internationally, too–– she engaged in political activism in South Africa, Turkey, and Cambodia, where she helped set up the first psychology masters program in the country.

In 2014, Worrell became a professor at the University of West London where she played a key role in establishing of The London Policing Research Network which aimed to ensure decisions regarding police practice were informed by relevant, modern research. “Through this work,” wrote colleagues at BPS, ” she helped to initiate and drive forward a culture shift which will transform police education in the Metropolitan Police Service ensuring that the values she espoused will be ingrained in future policing in London.”

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Gus Wachbrit

Augustus Wachbrit (or, if you’re intimidated by his three-syllable name, Gus) is the Social Science Communications Intern at SAGE Publishing. He assists in the creation, curation, revision, and distribution of various forms of written content primarily for Social Science Space and Method Space. He is studying Philosophy and English at California Lutheran University, where he is a research fellow and department assistant. If you’re likely to find him anywhere, he’ll be studying from a textbook, writing (either academically or creatively), exercising, or defying all odds and doing all these things at once.

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