Holy Cross Remembers Ogretta V. McNeil, Ph.D.

Ogretta V. McNeil, Ph.D. (1932-2016)
Associate Professor of Psychology, 1969-1997

Ogretta V. McNeil, Ph.D., of Worcester, died on Oct. 5, 2016, at 84. Professor McNeil was an associate professor emerita of psychology at the College. She was a trailblazer at Holy Cross: the first woman hired to a tenure track position in the psychology department, the first African-American woman to serve on the faculty and a staunch advocate for diversity and inclusion on campus.

Professor McNeil joined the psychology department as a visiting lecturer in 1969, and then was promoted to full-time assistant professor in 1971. In 1974, she earned tenure and was promoted to the rank of associate professor. She specialized in developmental psychology, focusing on the effects of transition, such as the transition from high school to college or from work to retirement, on psychological wellbeing. Professor McNeil served as chair of the psychology department, as well as on a number of College committees.

Her signature contribution to the College, and to her students, was her pioneering work on diversity and inclusion. In 1982, she was appointed as the black student advisor and, in 1984, she was appointed assistant dean for academic services for ALANA (African-American, Latin American, Asian-American or Native American heritage) students. In these roles, she created a number of programs to support ALANA students at the College and to work with faculty and staff in creating a more inclusive community. In 2008, Professor McNeil was one of three individuals honored at the 40th anniversary celebration of the Black Student Union, for her work in “helping create a welcoming environment for black students at Holy Cross.”

Stephen J. Schulz ’80 wrote about Professor McNeil in a collection of essays titled, “The Teacher Who Changed My Life,” in the Summer 2005 issue of Holy Cross Magazine: “I recall spending endless hours in her office in Loyola Hall, talking about life, goals and aspirations. She encouraged me to always be open to possibilities. That philosophy influenced my course choices while in college and has guided and sustained me throughout my career. My mentor encouraged me to think critically, but to be open to new and different ideas; to take in life with all of its quirks, surprises and inevitable disappointments; to be always grateful for the experiences and opportunities offered to me in my life; and to be mindful of the need to serve others.”

Professor McNeil earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from Clark University in 1959, after graduating magna cum laude from Howard University in 1954. In 1967, she received a Danforth Fellowship, a prestigious scholarship for graduate study that is no longer in existence. At the start of her career, she worked as a psychologist for the Worcester Public Schools from 1968 to 1970. She also worked at several other area colleges and universities: as an assistant professor at Assumption College from 1968-1971, a visiting lecturer at Clark University in 1972 and as a consulting clinical psychologist at Anna Maria College from 1968-1978. She was active in her field, as an Executive Committee member of the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists, president of the New England Psychological Association from 1988 to 1989 and a member of the American Antiquarian Society since 2001.

In addition to her work in higher education, Professor McNeil was also dedicated to the city of Worcester and the surrounding community. She was a trustee at the University of Massachusetts from 1976 to 1981, a trustee for the UMass Memorial Foundation and a trustee at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York, from 1977 to 1982. From 1995-2005, Professor McNeil served on the Steering Committee of The Worcester Women's History Project, founded in 1994 by women to raise awareness of the importance of the first National Woman's Rights Convention and to highlight the role of Worcester—the site of the first National Woman's Rights Convention in 1850—in the women's rights movement.

After her retirement from Holy Cross in 1997, Professor McNeil served five consecutive two-year terms as an elected member of the Worcester School Committee. She was a founding member of the Jesuit Conference on Minority Affairs, and received an honorary degree from the College in 2009. She is survived by her two sons, Robert Vaughn and Reverend John Vaughn ’82, who received a Sanctae Crucis Award in 2015.  ■