Education professor relies on candor, sincerity to advance equality

By JoAnn Adkins

Isaac Burt doesn’t shy away from complex issues. He has been a counselor in a correctional facility, a mental health counselor in a behavioral school, a training liaison for anger management groups in the school system, and today is a researcher and associate professor in FIU’s Department of Counseling, Recreation and School Psychology.

Isaac Burt

He has spent his entire career creating awareness, challenging accepted norms, researching solutions for social injustice, and educating others on diversity, inclusion and equity. His efforts were recently recognized when Burt was awarded the President’s Access and Equity Award during FIU’s Recognition Awards ceremony.

“Having been a person who experienced discrimination while pursing my occupational objectives, one of my goals is to challenge ideologies that disproportionally label Black and Latinx people as angry, outcasts or substandard,” Burt said. “Instead of unconsciously — and sometimes consciously — stereotyping these populations, I choose to help people uncover their hidden biases, while simultaneously increasing self-awareness.”

Andy Pham, an associate professor of Counseling, Recreation and School Psychology who nominated Burt for the award, said Burt’s academic and professional career has been a tireless effort to increase diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism at the institutional, national and community levels.

“He serves not only the FIU community, but also underserved youth where many others have not reached,” Pham said. “His research on mental health promotion and positive well-being of others makes Dr. Burt an outstanding scholar, and his strong record of service and community engagement should be recognized.”

Burt is currently a Faculty Fellow for FIU’s Office to Advance Women, Equity, and Diversity, where he facilitates large-scale programs including efforts to increase diversity among the faculty. He is also a member of the office’s Bystander Leadership team, which educates faculty on how to positively and productively address gender and race bias within faculty interactions.

Knowing that people often avoid topics that are hard to talk about, Burt chooses to approach difficult subjects by “meeting people where they are at” to facilitate empathy. He searches for commonalities to help provide perspective.

“Some people are just not ready or are very resistant to discuss topics such as race, gender, and mental health in a confrontational manner,” Burt said. “How I circumvent this is by addressing them on their level.”

With nationwide protests calling for an end to police brutality and institutional racism, Burt says people can actually approach social advocacy in two ways — as an individual and as part of a group. As individuals, he says people should open up, be bold and talk to others who are different. Inquire about their experiences. Listen. On the group level, he suggests taking advantage of programs that foster open dialogues and promote action-oriented initiatives around racial and gender biases, like the faculty training work being done in FIU’s Office to Advance Women, Equity and Diversity.

Burt, who joined FIU in 2011, regularly serves on committees for the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development, and currently is as a member of the executive council. He was a recipient of the Association for Specialists in Group Work’s 2018 Research Article of the Year award for his work focused on reducing anger among at-risk adolescents in Miami-Dade County Public Schools by promoting leadership skills from a school-based counseling group. Prior to joining FIU, Burt worked in schools, mental health agencies and community centers, where he counseled individuals, couples and families from the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America and Bosnia. His research interests entail social justice for historically marginalized populations, adolescent self-efficacy, culturally sensitive treatments for youth, redefining anger management groups in schools and relationship decision making.