Longtime UC Santa Barbara staff member and current director of the Disabled Students Program Gary White is set to retire on June 28 after 33 years of working at the university.
Throughout his time at UCSB, White has worked at the Women’s Center and Counseling and Career Services — a campus department operating prior to the formation of Counseling & Psychological Services.
During his undergraduate years at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, White initially became interested in counseling work after being encouraged by his football teammates, who would often emotionally confide in him.
“They would show up in my dorm room and say, ‘Gary, we’ve got to talk.’ And I thought, ‘Oh shit, I did something.’ And then they would proceed to just sort of air out their grievances,” he said.
“One of those gentlemen actually said, ‘Gary, you need to think about becoming a counselor or a psychologist because you’ve got this great way of listening,’” White continued.
After graduating, White took on a summer internship at the Devereux Foundation in California, bringing him to the Santa Barbara area. He earned his license in marriage and family therapy and eventually came to UCSB.
“My education and my training has certainly nurtured this passion, this wanting to [get into counseling], but I really think that it’s just something that has just come to me,” he said. “I’ve been drawn to this. I think this is sort of in my makeup.”
White officially took on the director’s position at the Disabled Students Program (DSP) 18 years ago. Over the years, he saw the population of the program quadruple in size and oversaw the implementation of assistive technology, like automatic transcription services, for the campus community.
“The kinds of things that I did with this position, being both the public face for disability issues on campus, being the person to respond to things and seeing our population go from 600 to 2400,” White said.
“I also love how our office is embracing the technology that will help to bring access for students. There’s things that we’re using now I could only have dreamed of when I first started in this position,” he continued.
Throughout his years, White oversaw the “explosion of need” for mental health services after the 2014 Isla Vista tragedy and the rise for accessibility resources during the pandemic. He was glad to be able to help the campus community during these times of struggle.
“There’s so many instances of things just blowing up — increasing needs for all types of services. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and to be a part of the response,” he said.
Prior to DSP, White began his work on campus at the Women’s Center as the assistant and interim director of the Rape Prevention and Education Program — now known as Campus Advocacy, Resources & Education and then as a counselor at Counseling and Career Services.
He said some of the students he once worked with during his early years on campus are now adults themselves, and White appreciated the opportunity to watch his colleagues and those he’s helped over the years grow.
“It’s been gratifying over the years to have students come back and say things like, ‘I didn’t really want to listen to what you said,’” White said. “And I’m just glad that they could use whatever it was that we were trying to help them to learn.”
“It’s absolutely wonderful to watch their development — to see them become well-rounded human beings, which is what they’re supposed to be,” he continued.
After retirement, White looks forward to gardening, sleeping and swimming. He will also continue teaching at the Pacifica Graduate Institute to help guide other students who are interested in entering the counseling profession.
White said he knows he’ll be leaving the department with people that he trusts and is fond of. While he will still be in the area, he said he looks forward to future years to come for accessibility on campus.
“I’m leaving the department in great hands. I absolutely love what we built here. Of course, there’s so much more that needs to happen, so much more that we need,” he said.
“I was really fortunate to be in the right place. I can’t ask for more. I could not have asked for more.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the May 25, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.