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Norma Cox Astwood
 
Tagged: Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies

Norma Cox Astwood, Ph.D. ’75: Leading Change

Innovators and Entrepreneurs


 

Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.

Former Bermuda Senate Vice-President

Greatest accomplishment: Graduating from Adelphi. Afterwards, I had the privilege of doing both pre and post-doctoral work as a clinical fellow in psychology at Harvard University Medical School. Adelphi prepared me well for work as a psychologist, and without psychological training I wouldn’t be where I am today. That is an undisputable fact!

Advice for current students: Appreciate what Adelphi has to offer. Absorb it. Take it away. Share what you’ve learned at Adelphi so that others quickly observe what our alma mater has to offer.

Leading Change

Some people recognize when change is needed. Others, like Dr. Norma Cox Astwood, work to create the change they hope to see.

While serving as a senator, Dr. Astwood was a member of several of Bermuda’s delegations at Commonwealth Parliamentary Conferences. At the first one she attended (1989), she observed that the vast majority of conference participates were male. “It struck me rather oddly that of 400 delegates, there were only 12 females,” she said. “I thought, ‘How did we manage this?’ After all, women represent at least 50 percent of the constituency of the Commonwealth.”

Dr. Astwood took action at the 35th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, held in Barbados in 1989. She voiced her concerns to several other women present about the lack of female representation. The more she spoke with other female delegates about the problems associated with having too few women present, the more support she found.

She recalled talking with one delegate from Tanzania who felt unable to participate fully because she feared she would lose her parliamentary status if her views were known back at home and that could result in having one less female parliamentary female member. “I said, ‘that’s exactly why we have to form a larger female membership across the Commonwealth,’’” said Dr. Astwood, who planned to make an announcement the last day of that 1989 Conference.

“I was not, according to the agenda, scheduled to speak and unscheduled agenda items were a no-no. You don’t add unscheduled items at these kinds of conferences,” she said. “But given the activist I can be, I tried to do so and was successful in that effort.” Before the conference’s end, Dr. Astwood had successfully organized an informal meeting and made a public statement that a group had been formed and that the body’s aim was to raise the profile of women and add to the number of female representatives in Commonwealth parliaments.

What started as an idea led to the founding of a women’s caucus and evolved into the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Group (CWP), which continues to thrive today. “It has done very well, and continues to meet and work towards the betterment of national services for women at each annual conference,” she said. “Women have the opportunity to present agenda items that are particularly important to women and families in the various countries across the Commonwealth.” The CWP also affords women the chance to collaborate, share experiences, discuss problems and seek solutions together beyond the annual Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference.

While clearly well suited for her role in the Senate, Dr. Astwood never previously imagined she would get into politics. Born and raised in Bermuda, her career began in education. While training at Hamilton Teachers’ College (formerly Hamilton Normal School) it occurred to her that there were a lot of things she wouldn’t be able to do for students because teaching training opportunities at that time didn’t give her the skills to deal with students’ more serious learning problems. “This was the 1950s. In those days, teachers were not trained in special education at the level they are now,” said Dr. Astwood, who began to think that maybe she should become a psychologist.

With a bachelor’s degree in psychology and literature, and having completed educational psychology during her teacher’s training and having obtained a diploma in the psychology of childhood in Britain, Dr. Astwood came to Adelphi to earn her Ph.D. in clinical psychology. “The program was very stimulating,” she said. “There were so many opportunities to learn so many kinds of things in the field. Whether it was in a clinic, hospital, classroom or student services on campus, there were lots of opportunities to have a wide experience with a very broad cross section of socio-economic groups.”

After receiving her doctoral degree, Dr. Astwood returned home to Bermuda, where she became Bermuda’s first native Ph.D. clinical psychologist. “We are a very small island. As a territory overseen by Britain, many of our professionals at that level came to Bermuda from there. So we had previously used the psychologists in the psychiatric hospital for any issues in the schools,” she said. When Dr. Astwood returned from Adelphi, she introduced ways to make connections throughout the psychiatric hospital, Department of Social Services and school system.

Working as Bermuda’s psychologist to schools led to a natural transition into her next role as director of the Department of Social Services. In this position, she oversaw, inter alia, child and family services, financial assistance programs, services to the elderly and residential care for youth and young adult males in transition.

Dr. Astwood distinguished herself through her record of innovation and accomplishment in the fields of education and social services. The Governor of Bermuda, who is responsible for appointing the three independent (non-partisan) members of the Senate, took notice. He approached Dr. Astwood and requested her service as a parliamentarian.

In 1987, Dr. Astwood was appointed an Independent Senator. By 1988, she was named senate vice-president. It was thanks to her efforts as Bermuda’s first female vice president that the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians was initiated, helping women to play a more prominent role in political and decision-making processes.

Today Dr. Astwood, who lives in Barbados, works on a voluntary basis as a consultant to the Caribbean Dyslexia Centre. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, reading, and is currently learning several crafts— including learning how to crochet—as hobbies.

A charter member of Adelphi University Alumni Association Academy of Distinction, she returned to Adelphi’s campus on June 2, 2012, for a special rededication of the Academy by Adelphi President Robert A. Scott.

Published January 2013.