James Madison University

Dr. Matthew Lee Teaches Students to Understand

By Deirdre E. Myers

PHOTO: Lee AwardThe JMU Psychology Department’s Dr. Matthew Lee is this year’s recipient of the College of Health and Behavioral Studies Outstanding Junior Faculty Award. Though he has only been at JMU for a few years, the impact of his presence has been very impressive. He says that through his background in Asian-American Psychology, he has been able to understand the impact of culture on marginalized groups.  Comparing his own experience, and his study of various minority groups he has realized that minority groups tend to have many experiences in common.  By studying common attitudes and perceptions of groups that are marginalized because of race, ability status, sexual orientation, or other facets of their identity, Dr. Lee hopes to better understand what experiences can reduce prejudice. His many accomplishments such as leading a diversity workshop for faculty, completing laboratory studies of cultural impacts on human behavior, and studying the effect of socio-cultural courses on JMU’s own campus, Dr. Lee is well on his way to achieving that goal.

From his classes, one concept that Dr. Lee says he wants his students to learn is that everyone can’t fit in the same mold, and it is impossible to treat them as if they do. It is critical that students recognize that everyone brings something unique to situations.  Recognizing this is an important life skill, and one that is particularly important for psychology students, who often seek jobs where they must understand and help others. In designing activities that help students understand oppression, he hopes to encourage activism outside of the classroom. For example, in one of his classes, students decided to boycott a business after completing an experiment that found that the business exhibited prejudice toward same-gender couples. Dr. Lee says that his loves hearing feedback from his students has suggests that their own personal values have strengthened by their experiences in his class.  He loves hearing that they have decided to take action to improve the world.  He notes that “they don’t get a grade for something like that, they just get life points.”

Dr. Lee’s laboratory students have been able to present at major national conferences such as the conference conducted by the American Psychological Association. Dr. Lee says he is proud of his undergraduate student’s ability to function at a graduate level.  He says that this reflects that they grasp of subject matter and a high level, and their dedication to the work is inspiring.

His students seem to find him equally inspiring. Dr. Lee’s classes incorporate elements of traditional lecture, along with group discussions and projects that take learning outside of the classroom. One of Dr. Lee’s students, Sarah Yi, notes that he makes class content relevant to his students, and makes class time exciting by using various teaching methods. Another student, Natalie Dohner, says that she wishes more students had the opportunity to learn from him. “I actually felt like I had a voice in Dr. Lee's class and that what I had to say in our discussions mattered,” she explains, noting that his class, beyond simply teaching her the material, challenged her to consider the world from the perspective of others. She asserts that learning from Dr. Lee has encouraged her to share her understanding with her peers.  She remarked that these continued conversations allowed her to continue to advance her understanding of the topics that Dr. Lee had introduced even after the class was over.

By borrowing from multiple psychology subfields such as perception, cognition, and social psychology Dr. Lee has been able to approach scholarship in a way that incorporates multiple lenses of understanding. In the teaching methods he utilizes and the subject matter he discusses, Dr. Lee is a professor that has a clear impact on JMU students and colleagues.