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Lee: Developing more inclusive, diverse programs is ‘work I love to do’

Matt Lee, SPPUA’s new teaching professor of human services, has a background in psychology, conducts research and advocacy on diversity, identity and inclusion, and has implemented global education programs in Romania, Germany, Poland, and Croatia.

Lee comes from James Madison University, where he served as the director of the Cultural and Racial Diversity Studies Lab. Here, he discusses his research interests and what he likes the most about SPPUA’s Human Services Program.


Q: What inspired you to study the influence of phenotype on individual-level well-being?

A: I became interested in studying the influence of phenotype on individual-level well-being among the Asian American population due to observing the kinds of stereotypes Asian American people I knew reported encountering, which may have differed based on their skin color, gender, ethnicity, and so forth.

I was very inspired by the work of Keith Maddox, a prominent African American psychologist who studied a similar phenomenon, called “racial prototypicality,” among African Americans, so I decided to test the hypotheses using more scientific means among an Asian American sample. We discovered that in fact different visible phenotypic features in Asian American students’ faces may correspond with experiences of racism and different levels of distress.


Q: You also study campus climate and intergroup relations. What sparked your interest in this topic?

A: I have always been interested in studying intergroup relations and campus climate since being in a rather non-diverse high school environment, and being exposed to countless microaggressions and invalidating experiences. I was curious about how to create an organization or a climate that is successful in raising everyone up to a high standard, while acknowledging every aspect of their cultural upbringing and background.

To be able to use my training in psychology to try and understand the climate for diversity and inclusion of an organization, and then to go one step further, and to try to develop programs to change the climate to be more inclusive, this is the kind of work I love to do. I also love mentoring students in my lab. So, to watch them develop proficiency with statistics, communication ability over complex concepts, and to facilitate their leadership and advocacy skills, I am constantly impressed that they also learn how to value data and see its application in a real-world context.


Q: How does your research on the effects of diversity coursework and extracurricular programming translate into the classroom?

A: My work on diversity coursework in particular translates to classroom experiences very often in my professional career. In my teaching, I focus a great deal of classroom content on diversity issues for a number of reasons: (1) to expose students to the wealth of the human experience; (2) to honor and represent the experiences of people present and not present in the room; and (3) to build an ethical sense of responsibility among my students that learners should care about diversity in both their personal and professional endeavors, and that social justice is an ongoing work in progress.

When it comes to extracurricular programming, university centers for leadership and diversity have contacted me to facilitate discussions on racism and bullying, campus climate, as well as privilege and how to leverage it to be more inclusive. Moreover, I am a member of the Asian American Psychological Association, where I have led workshops over the years on teaching about diversity issues. I also created a program at my prior university on inclusive classroom teaching to help faculty members build confidence and skills in addressing issues of diversity and equity in their teaching.


Q: What specific projects do you have in the works?

A: I have two manuscripts on which my co-author and I are working based on my Madison Matters project, the large campus climate research and advocacy project I developed at my prior university.


Q: What gets you most excited to join SPPUA and its Human Services Program?

A: I can tell that this is a program that is very much invested in a multidisciplinary approach to social justice that demands students step out of their comfort zones to be able to understand and also leverage their knowledge, interest, and care about policy, psychology, and more.


Q: What courses are you teaching this fall?

A: I am teaching “Counseling in Human Services” and the “Senior Capstone in Fall 2018.”

Published On: September 19, 2018 |
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