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Meet Professor Richard White
Meet Professor Richard White

Professor Emeritus, Urban Studies and Planning

Changing the world one student at a time

PhD, Urban Studies, Portland State University
MUS, Urban Studies, Portland State University
MDiv, Old Testament, Emmanuel School of Religion
BA, Pastoral Studies, San Jose Christian College


  • Professor Emeritus of Urban Studies and Planning

Urban social structure, social justice, community organization and development, international community development, urban faith-based organizations

  • USP 300U 

Faith, Hope. and Leverage: the Attributes of Faith-Based Community Organizations, 1996.




Professor Richard White brings a sense of calling and service to teaching. He encourages students to consider community development a calling (vocation) rather than a profession and to expand their thinking to include global issues of social, political, and economic justice.  Professor White teaches undergraduate courses in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning and PSU’s University Studies Program.

His course topics include community studies, community development, international community development, neighborhood revitalization, and public participation. He is coordinator of the University Studies Community Studies Cluster and administers the PSU International Sustainable Community Development Fund, a fund that provides student travel scholarships for research and study in Nicaragua and Uganda.

His current interests include the so-called shadow, underground, informal, or parallel economy, which includes not only illegal activities but also unreported income from the production of legal goods and services, either from monetary or barter transactions.  He also explores collaborative international sustainable community development practice that helps address conditions of extreme poverty, works from community strengths, and builds local capacities to meet local needs.

Dr. White works with a variety of capacity-building organizations in Nicaragua and Uganda including, Esperanza en Accion and Habitar in Nicaragua; and National Book Trust of Uganda (NABOTU), Ruwenzori View Guesthouse, and Mountains of the Moon University in Uganda. Each summer, Professor White facilitates a month-long research seminar abroad that fosters new partnerships between PSU and international community organizations.

Prior to joining PSU faculty in 1999, Professor White served as a pastor in rural and urban communities across the United States from North Carolina and West Virginia to the Klamath Basin and Northeast Portland. His interest in social, political and economic justice led him to pursue a doctorate in Urban Studies. He was able to combine investigation of justice, community and community development with a Christian theological perspective.

Professor White has taught urban studies and urban ministry courses for bible colleges and seminaries including North Portland Bible College a non-denominational African-American Bible College, Western Seminary, and George Fox Evangelical Seminary. He was executive director of CUME-NW, a collaboration of six colleges and seminaries to advance urban ministry education. He is a contributing editor ofCultural Encounters, the journal for the Theology of Culture, is a member of the international community development committee of the Community Development Society, and a member of the standards and practices task group of the International Association for Community Development.

In the classroom, Professor White appreciates the fearlessness students show in asking big questions and confronting assumed ways of thinking or addressing seemingly intransigent problems of poverty. Each class renews his sense of hope for the future.
What Professor White has to say...

It’s nice being in a collegial atmosphere with a community of scholars. The people here are intelligent, insightful, and use their skills to enhance the quality of life for the community. As a fixed term faculty, I am treated as a full member of the faculty, I appreciate that.

I believe that what I do here at PSU has meaning. By investing in my students, I have a sense that when they leave this place, they will be engaged in things that matter. And not just in Portland. That’s good.

To become more international in our focus. What is our role and relationship to the broader world in which we live? That conversation is starting to take place. My vision is to develop a clear statement about who we are in relation to the world and set about institutionalizing that in some meaningful way. I want the Toulan School to help students take what they are learning here and contextualize it in radically different places—especially in the global south.

If we are going to address and resolve some of our most entrenched problems, it will be done in a global frame, not just in U.S. cities, and not just in Portland. At the undergraduate level, we are working to impart a worldview. When our students go on to graduate school or into a profession, I want them to carry with them the sense and sensibilities of community development.

Reflective, participatory, capacity-building, democratic, and informed.

A strong sense of ethical responsibility in research and practice with knowledge and skills to address the social, political, and economic injustices of the world. Students should have tools at their disposal to help address the uneven distribution of society's risks and resources.  Ultimately, to be skilled in reflection and action.

As an undergraduate instructor, I necessarily spend a great deal of time hanging out with young people. They frequently ask blunt and direct questions. I appreciate that they challenge the “textus receptus,” the assumptions of our field, and ask jarring questions. The students force me to deal with the foundations of things, and make me question why I believe what I believe?

Our students are explorers, they look at ideas differently. They bring little treasures that open up the world for me. Even the most unsophisticated group project will highlight something I never thought about, perhaps a part of the city that I haven’t explored. I get to interact with many students from their sophomore through their senior year. I watch them develop, think, and grow. It produces hope in me.

Read broadly and not just what’s required. Read in the sidebar. Develop your own sense of curiosity and chase it. Learn to write, write frequently, share your writing with others, develop your skills, and get some critique.

To find new ways to reduce the inequities. To improve the quality of life for all people, especially the voiceless who’ve been shoved into the margins. For our cities to become increasingly democratic. For city governments to do what is in the best interest of all citizens...even if it means irritating the few that have the most.

Garden, read, or tinker in my wood shop.


Some favorites in International Development:
•    Rural Development, Putting the Last First, and Whose Reality Counts? Putting the First Last, both by Robert Chambers
•    The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly
•    The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier
•    Development as Freedom, by Arartya Sen

Some favorites on faith and engagement:
•    Life Together; Letters and Papers from Prison; and Ethics, both by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
•    The Waiting Father: Sermons on the Parables of Jesus, by Helmut Thielicke
•    The Cross of Christ; Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, by John R.W. Stott
•    City of God, City of Satan – a biblical theology of the urban church by Robert Linthicum
•    Money and Power by Jaques Ellul (and almost anything else by Ellul)