Black experiences in health education: OT alumna Cassandra Webb

We asked Black students, alumni, faculty and staff in the Wayne State University Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences to share – in their own words – challenges they've faced in professional health education or clinical practice. 

Cassandra Webb at work
Cassandra Webb, OTR/L, affectionately known as “Ms. Cass,” currently works with homeless and formerly homeless veterans in the HUD-VA Supportive Housing program. She enjoys “living life to the fullest” and has a passion for community and civic activities, and for African American History.

Cassandra Webb '84, '98

Program: Master of Occupational Therapy
Hometown: Detroit
High school: Cass Technical High School
Current position: OT at John D. Dingell VA Medical Center

My decision to pursue a career in OT was personal. My younger brother was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant following a bout with the measles. I can remember accompanying him to therapy with my mom. As a six-year-old, I enjoyed watching him “play." Therapy, through the eyes of a child, is playful and fun. I remember when my brother learned how to ride a red tricycle while pedaling around the big basketball circle located in the center of the therapy gym. The therapist wrapped his feet securely on the pedals using ace bandages and stacked wooden blocks on the pedals to ensure that his feet were properly positioned. Little did I know that this was occupational therapy, and a chance to strengthen his leg muscles that were essential for balance and walking.

This year, I celebrate 38 years as an occupational therapist, with 21 of those years directly providing OT services to veterans. I have worked in a variety of treatment settings. These include hospitals, nursing homes, mental institutions, developmental disability centers, residential treatment facilities and home care. I have survived the COVID-19 pandemic as a front-line worker, one who has learned new skills in technology and virtual care. I am thankful for the education and training that I received at Wayne State. It has allowed me to practice as an OT with skill and confidence for 38 strong years.

Cassandra Webb at the start of her OT career
Native Detroiter and Cass Technical High School graduate Cassandra Webb at age 23, the start of her OT career.

One of the greatest challenges faced as an African American OT student at WSU during the 1980s was to overcome the fear of isolation and the fear of failure. Because there were so few African American students who were enrolled in the program during that time, I often felt insignificant and disconnected from the other students, as if I never belonged there. I was often the last one selected for group projects. I sensed that there were negative stereotypes towards me, such as a belief that African American students consistently performed lower academically when compared to the other students. I felt that my opinions never really mattered. Despite these challenges, I persevered and eventually graduated.

As an African American OT, I am proud to serve and inspire other marginalized groups.

An anchor in urban health care 
The Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is built on more than 100 years of tradition and innovation in the heart of Detroit. We have grown deep roots in our city, harnessing its powerhouse hospital systems and community service organizations as vibrant, real-world training grounds for students, with an ongoing focus on social justice in health care. And our research at all levels – from undergraduates to veteran faculty members – translates into creative solutions for healthier communities.

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering approximately 350 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to more than 25,000 students.

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