Jocelyn Smith Lee

Dr. Smith Lee's expertise is in research and practice with Black males across the life course. Specifically, she examines the experience of homicide survivorship and works to understand how losing friends or family members to violence shapes the health and well-being of Black males. Dr. Smith Lee’s research in this area has been published in journals including the American Journal of Public Health and presented at numerous national meetings. At Marist, she is Assistant Professor of Psychology in the School of Social & Behavioral Sciences.

Where are you originally from?
I am originally from outside of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. My hometown is Norristown, PA, a small town that reminds me a lot of Poughkeepsie.

How did you become interested in Psychology?
My interest in Psychology was partly shaped by my high school coursework, volunteer experiences, and Hollywood. In high school, I volunteered as part of an after-school program for children pre-k through fifth grade. I loved working with the children in the program. It helped me to recognize the power of social relationship in shaping the health and well-being of young people. Shortly after that I took a psychology course in high school and really enjoyed the content. It seemed like a natural fit for me. Around the same time, I saw the movie Sixth Sense, a thriller that featured a Child Psychologist who tried to help a struggling young boy. I thought it was so fascinating! All of those experiences came together and helped me to see that my gift for working with young people and my interest in psychology could be a pathway to my professional future.

You were mentioned in a recent article from Reuter Health. Can you tell me a little more about this study? (i.e. how did you get involved, why was it important to you to study this subject matter, what was the most interesting finding to you, etc.)
I was recently interviewed by Reuter Health to share my expertise about loss and grief among Black families, young Black men in particular. In 2015, my study, Unequal Burdens of Loss: Examining the Frequency and Developmental Timing of Homicide Deaths Experienced by Young Black Men Across the Life Course was published in the American Journal of Public Health. This study based in Baltimore, MD unpacked the prevalence of traumatic loss and grief experienced by young Black men and their social networks. I interviewed 40 young men ages 18-24 to learn about their exposures to loss resulting from neighborhood violence. On average, this group of young people, who are the same ages as the majority of my students at Marist, experienced seven death-related losses of loved ones across the life course. Of these deaths, an average of three were identified as homicide deaths of peers. Can you imagine losing three of your friends to violent death? The thought of this reality is heavy, yet it is often an unacknowledged and unaddressed reality for young Black men transitioning to adulthood. These findings are so important for students and faculty in psychology at Marist and across campus because they have implications for the health, behavior, and success of this important group. It makes clear the need for trauma and grief-informed systems, including higher education, that are prepared to partner with and support young men of color who may carry invisible wounds of loss and grief with them into the college classroom. This is already an extremely resilient group, but much work remains in learning to see and address the pain of this often marginalized population.

What has been your favorite part about teaching at Marist?
In Psychology, our tagline for the major is “show me the data.” So we take an evidence-based approach to examining issues that is informed by science. My favorite part about teaching at Marist is having the opportunity to expose my students to evidence-based, interdisciplinary course material that challenges them to consider the role of context in shaping the psychology of groups and individuals. Both my graduate training at the University of Maryland, College Park and my postdoctoral work at the University of Michigan were in Schools of Public Health. This training pushes me to help my students make connections between the conditions where individuals are born, live, age, work, and play, and their mental, physical, and behavioral health of individuals. I partly do this by integrating my research on trauma, violence, and loss in the classroom. For example, it might be easy to observe violence in a city like Baltimore or Chicago and infer that it is only something about the people in those places that is problematic or needs fixing. However, an interdisciplinary approach grounded in evidence helps us quickly recognize that decades of data indicate that social and structural inequities like educational inequalities, unequal job opportunities, racism, and other factors linked to policy are the major root causes and sustainers of community violence. Helping students make these connections creates opportunities for them to engage in critical thinking and broadens their understandings of psychology, society, and the human condition. As a professor, seeing students make these connections is so exciting and rewarding.

Do you have any advice for incoming students interested in Psychology?
First, let me say that we would be thrilled to welcome interested students to the major or minor in Psychology at Marist! My advice would be to consider what your research interests may be and look for opportunities to engage in research with faculty members throughout your time at Marist. Participating in research helps you to enjoy your studies through a real-time application. It also helps to prepare you for graduate school. If you are unsure of what your research interests are, ask yourself these questions:

1) What aspects of human thought, behavior, or development make me curious?

2) What societal issues/concerns are of interest to me?

3) What are the unanswered questions in my own life?

If you can answer these questions, I am confident your interests will start to surface, and I am equally confident that faculty in Psychology can support you in examining these and related interests through research.

Written by Shannon Donohue '17

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Profile Type: Faculty
Major:
Academic School: Social and Behavioral Sciences
Campus: New York
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