‘A man who brought people together’: UC Berkeley visiting scholar Harvey Peskin dies at age 86

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Victor Peskin/Staff

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UC Berkeley alumnus Harvey Peskin, remembered for his intellectual curiosity and commitment to students, passed away April 21 at age 86.

Harvey Peskin was a visiting scholar at the campus’s Institute of Human Development, or IHD, and a professor emeritus at San Francisco State University. He was known by both his family and students as a supportive mentor, according to his eldest son, Aaron Peskin, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

“He always joked that he was first and foremost a scholar and not an academic,” Aaron Peskin said. “He was extremely devoted to teaching and his students, which was evidenced by generations of his students showing up to his graveside service.”

A child of Polish immigrants, Harvey Peskin grew up in Brooklyn and became the first in his family to attend college. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology at the City College of New York.

Harvey Peskin then dedicated the rest of his life to the field of psychology, eventually going on to become a therapist, a psychologist and an award-winning scholar in the field of trauma research, according to his younger son, Victor Peskin.

“One of the incredible things about my father was that he was a psychologist, a therapist and a scholar — he had an incredible intellectual range,” said Victor Peskin, who is now an associate professor of politics and global studies at Arizona State University.

In 1953, less than one year after he earned his bachelor’s degree, Harvey Peskin took a cross-country trip on a Greyhound bus from New York to California, where he began his studies as a graduate student at UC Berkeley. Harvey Peskin remained in Berkeley for the next 65 years of his life.

Even in retirement, Harvey Peskin continued his research on Holocaust trauma, winning two international awards for his work — both from the International Psychoanalytical Association — in 2013 and 2015.

Larry Miller, one of Harvey Peskin’s former students and a Berkeley-based psychologist, cited his ability to work with people of diverse intellectual backgrounds as one of his greatest strengths.

“This was a man who brought people together from different professions, ideologies and backgrounds because he saw the shared humanity which unites us,” Miller said in an email.

During his final weeks, Harvey Peskin was visited by former students spanning his nearly four decades of teaching at SFSU. Between 40 to 50 former students attended his funeral service, according to Victor Peskin.

“My father, in his work and life, was really driven by a deep sense of humanity,” Victor Peskin said. “As a teacher, as a mentor, as a therapist, as a leader and as a father.”

Contact Miyako Iwata at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dailycalmiyako.