James Madison University

Psych Professor Receives Recognition for Diversity Work

By: Daniel Vieth
Posted: May 2, 2014

PHOTO: Matt LeeEven in 2014, higher education continues to suffer from inequities and underrepresentation of minority groups. Though many may not realize it, disparities in higher education unintentionally marginalize groups like African-Americans, Asian-Americans and members of the LGBT community. Through his published articles, his unique approach to teaching and his involvement in a number of diversity-minded organizations, JMU Psychology professor Dr. Matthew Lee has been working hard to promote diversity and social justice. Lee was recently recognized for his achievements by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education Magazine where he will be profiled in the May 2014 edition during Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Originally nominated as an ‘Emerging Scholar’ the editors of the magazine decided to profile Lee individually with a more in-depth interview.  Diverse Magazine’s ‘Emerging Scholar Class’ is an annual award given to 12 standout minority instructors in higher education who have “made their mark in academia.” These young scholars have all demonstrated leadership in their respective field, using their position to further promote diversity through teaching and publication. “It’s nice to be recognized by peers in the field who care about diversity and education and understand how they are intertwined with one another,” said Lee. “It was nice that they singled me out as someone they thought was doing this kind of thing!”

As a JMU professor, Lee has made an impact with his unique and thought-provoking teaching style. Rather than simply lecturing three days a week, Lee utilizes personal stories, pop culture, intergroup dialogue and simulations to encourage students to use the information to improve the world around them. “Part of what I think is unique about me and about the content of the class is that it requires a lot of reflecting, talking and thinking about the concepts,” Lee explained. “I hope I can help them figure out how they can be an agent of change, to really kind of improve things and really help level the playing field for people from different backgrounds.” Lee received the College of Health and Behavioral Studies Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in 2013 for his accomplishments as an instructor.

Lee has also worked extensively with a number of programs to help promote social justice and diversity. He joined the advisory board of the Gandhi Center this past year, has worked with the Center for Faculty Innovation (CFI) to create learning workshops for other professors, assisted the international student mentoring program LIFE, and supervised the student awareness group House of Privilege. Lee was also the committee chair of the national convention for the Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA), where he led a team of nearly 20 people to organize the event for the past two years. “I’ve been working with [AAPA] for a long time, so it was a good way to kind of give back to the community,” explained Lee. “It was a massive effort, but I would say we had two successful conferences back to back and I was happy to facilitate that for the professional community.”

While Lee loves to teach his Gpsyc and Cultural Psychology courses, he also devotes a large part of his time to mentoring the students in his Cultural and Racial Diversity Studies (CARDS) Lab. “I’ve spent a lot of time really trying to advocate for my students, getting them to go to conferences and getting them to network,” Lee explained. By working on writing resumes, preparing for the GRE, learning how to communicate in writing and in person, Lee aims to help his students put their best foot forward. “I’ve had a perfect success rate of helping my graduating lab students get into graduate school,” Lee exclaimed.  “I’ve received a lot of feedback from the professional community as to how active I am in promoting even younger scholars than me.” 

Despite the large number of projects Lee has been involved with, he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. “I’m not bored yet,” Lee joked. “I’m doing a lot of the things that I would like to be doing, and I think it’s effective for students.” For example, Lee and a number of his students are participating in a new study abroad trip to Germany and Poland this upcoming summer to learn about cross-cultural psychology, and the psychology of the Holocaust. “I want to help students see themselves as part of this larger global citizenry where they’re actually participating in discussions, charity, and organizations in their community,” said Lee. “Education can really help students realize that they’re connected to lots of things around the world.”