Sanders Thompson Installed as E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity


Vetta Sanders Thompson has been installed as the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. To mark the occasion, a ceremony was held May 9 in the Clark-Fox Forum of Hillman Hall.

Sanders Thompson’s scholarly expertise is focused on the health and well-being of ethnic and racial minority communities, particularly the African American community. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and a noted researcher in the areas of racial identity and socialization, the psychological impact of racial discrimination, psychosocial implications of race and ethnicity in health promotion, and health and mental health services utilization.

Mary M. McKay, Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School, introduced Sanders Thompson and praised her body of work.

“Vetta I admire your community-based participatory research so much. You are an extraordinary collaborator,” McKay said. “As she designs research questions and programs, she has voice from her consumers, providers, leadership and more, which is so important to come up with solutions to our most pressing challenges.”

Sanders Thompson’s address, “Identity and Community: Implications for Health and Well-Being,” surveyed the breadth of her work to empower members of the community to improve their health and well-being. She has completed funded research examining cultural competence in the provision of mental health services, colorectal cancer screening promotion and communication, HPV attitudes and vaccination in the African-American community, experiences of discrimination among users of Consumer Operated Services Programs, as well as work on racial and cultural issues in violence against women.

Sanders Thompson has served as a co-director of the Institute for Public Health’s Center for Community Health, Partnership and Research, as well as an associate member of the Siteman Cancer Center. She works closely with the Program for the Elimination of Cancer Disparities. Her goal is to produce research to support community efforts to achieve equity in health and well-being, and she has worked with a number of community initiatives, including Project Launch and the Community Research Training Fellows Program.

Sanders Thompson also serves as the faculty liaison for the Brown School’s MSW/MPH dual-degree program, and she teaches mental health, social justice and health disparities courses.

About E. Desmond Lee

The late E. Desmond Lee — an alumnus and great friend to Washington University — established this professorship in 1998 to foster racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in St. Louis.

Lee received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Washington University in 1940. In 1939, while still a student, he co-founded Lee/Rowan Company, which went on to become a leading manufacturer of storage and organizational products. After selling Lee/Rowan in 1993, the E. Desmond Lee Foundation was created, which has since supported educational and cultural institutions to benefit disadvantaged youth across the region.

Lee recognized the importance of supporting professorships at local universities, and in 1996 he launched the Des Lee Collaborative Vision, which has endowed more than 30 professorships in the St. Louis region.

An active member of the university community, Lee was honored with the Olin Business School’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1994 and the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1997. In 1998, he was awarded an honorary degree, and in 2000, Lee received the Robert S. Brookings Award. In 2001, he received the Brown School Dean’s Medal.

Lee died in 2010 at the age of 92, leaving behind a legacy of service and philanthropy at Washington University and in the St. Louis community.