College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

Rita Chi-Ying Chung finishing a celebrated faculty career by doing some of her greatest work

September 4, 2019

Rita Chi-Ying Chung, a professor for nearly two decades in Mason’s Counseling and Development program, says she still has plenty of work to wrap up over the next few months before she retires in early 2020.

Some of that work, including putting together a second edition of a book on social justice counseling and anticipated international fieldwork with Counselors Without Borders, will continue after retirement. She also said she hopes to continue getting many calls or emails from former students celebrating their good news.

While Chung has already accomplished a tremendous amount in her time on the CEHD faculty, including groundbreaking research work on human trafficking that led to an invitation to speak before the United Nations in New York, she said some of the work she is most proud of has been recent or is going on right now.

“I’ve still got a lot of research projects that I’m working on with my graduate students looking at the role of courage in social justice work,” Chung said. “People can see something and say, ‘Wow, that’s really bad.’ But I’m interested in if we can teach people to stand up to injustices instead of just seeing something and walking away.”

Chung, an expert on multicultural, cross-cultural, and social justice issues in counseling credits the courage she’s witnessed from Mason students through the years for inspiring much of this new research. She said she is also currently working on research on how mentorship works across racial groups to help groom a diverse pool of future leaders in the counseling field. Chung herself completed a PhD in psychology at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington and was the first New Zealand-born Chinese woman to earn a doctorate.

She’ll also be co-authoring the second edition of her textbook, Social Justice Counseling: The Next Steps Beyond Multiculturalism, with her research partner and husband Fred Bemak, who is also retiring as a Mason professor in Counseling and Development early next year.

Chung and Bemak joined the Mason faculty from Ohio State University back in 2000 and were both instrumental in building the Counseling and Development program into a nationally renowned program and giving it a focus of social justice and multiculturalism. “We wanted to really make it the program of our dreams and make it be at the forefront of what was going on in counseling and psychology in terms of a social justice mission,” Chung said. “This was where we saw the field going. That was like our wild dream, and I thought they were going to say no, but they said yes.”

While Chung’s work has taken her all over the world, some of her more recent on-campus accomplishments include serving on the “Doing What Matters” Group for Diversity and Inclusion and speaking on campus on topics including Asian leadership and the “#metoo” movement from an Asian perspective.

Chung said she also has worked in recent years to empower her students in her classes to get involved on campus and in the local community so that they are not limited to waiting for graduation to start making a positive difference. “My students know I work hard and I play hard,” Chung said. “Classes are fun. We laugh. But when we work, we work. They know that I push them. I say when I push them, ‘I want you to learn to the max.’ I put my heart and soul into teaching.”

Chung has co-authored two books and published and presented her work widely. Among her many awards are the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award, which recognizes top faculty members across all disciplines at public and private schools in Virginia; Mason’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education Spirit of King Faculty Award; and the 2019 United Bank Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion.

Among the several Counselors Without Borders trips she’s participated in was one to the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, where Mason students worked on the ground with faculty. “The students did not want to go back home for Thanksgiving. They wanted to stay,” Chung said. “There was a lot of incredible work the students and all of us did as a team.”

Recently, at a joint retirement celebration for Chung and Bemak on the Mason campus, students came back from some of her first classes nearly 20 years ago. Other former students who weren’t able to attend sent in thank-you videos from around the world.

“The event was beautiful,” Chung said. “The graduates of the program now are leaders in the field. They’ve become supervisors in their jobs and have taken major roles in community agencies and in school counseling.”

Chung said she’s proud of how the Counseling and Development program has grown since her time at Mason, which she said often seems more like five years than almost 20 years.

“Retirement can be bittersweet,” Chung said. “Mason’s allowed me to dream. They always gave me a lot of support to be creative and said to help put Mason on the map. The world’s your oyster to do what you want to do.”