Dr. Ellie Brown

Dr. Brown with her children
Dr. Brown with her son

From the time I was a child, I wanted to make a difference for children in poverty. Although I grew up with economic privilege, I saw close-up the impact of adversity on a number of my cousins and other relatives. I saw the impact of material hardship and I also observed the effects of related stressors and traumas, like housing instability, family violence, and parent emotional difficulties. I knew it didn’t make sense for children to carry these burdens.

I also saw that many of my relatives who faced economic hardship had unique strengths. Some were remarkable human beings, whom I looked up to. Many contributed to a community that knew how to come through for people going through hard times. Counter to stereotypes, the people I saw around me were smart, hardworking, and responsible. Although the struggles they faced came with emotional pain, they also knew how to laugh. They drew upon music, dancing, storytelling, artwork, nature, and religion to lift spirits and sustain hope.

In some ways it’s not surprising that my career has led me to a focus on the impact of stress and trauma on children’s cognitive and emotional development, and how we can build on child, family, and community strengths to promote flourishing. I’ve been fortunate to partner with Head Start preschool programs and other community organizations supporting children and families facing adversity, and I’ve also been fortunate to mentor WCU students who have joined with me to provide psychology-related services, including research on questions of mutual interest.

One of our community partners, for example, Settlement Music School, has long understood the importance of leveraging music and the arts to promote children’s wellbeing. In a research study supported by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), we found that music and arts programs within Settlement’s Kaleidoscope Preschool Arts Enrichment Program related to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol for young children facing poverty and racism. Evidence that the arts could “get under the skin” motivated a line of research examining neurophysiological benefits, and I’m excited to expand upon this via our Research on Equity via the Arts in Childhood or REACH Lab, a cooperative arts research lab supported by the NEA.

Our team understands that change begins with us, and we engage in efforts to counter the impact of classism and racism on ourselves, our relationships, and our work as psychology professionals. We’ve recently begun to study the impact of multiple models aimed at providing anti-racism training and support for individuals engaged in social justice efforts.

As a clinical psychologist and researcher, my overarching goal is to work toward a just and sustainable world in which all children can flourish. My own children provide one continuing source of inspiration. Outside of work, I love spending time with my family, including playing, hiking, horseback riding, and supporting my own children’s passion for music.