With her focus on social justice psychology, “Dr. J.” is opening students’ eyes and getting them involved to make the world a better place.
Coming from a third generation family of Mexican-Americans, Spring Hill College associate professor of psychology Jamie Franco-Zamudio, PhD, had first-hand experience with discrimination and prejudice. Perhaps that played a role in her finding her passion for researching and teaching social justice psychology.
“I took a class in social psychology and said, ‘This is it.’” says Franco-Zamudio. “I just couldn’t get enough of the information tied to how we identify with others, and where we feel safe or don’t feel safe. It was really meaningful for me – both professionally and personally – to take the next step and do research on the experiences of discrimination and prejudice in order to advocate for policies that didn’t continue to perpetuate marginalization.
“And I usually tell my students that, too. When there comes a moment in a class and you don’t want to stop reading the material – that’s a sign.”
Franco-Zamudio’s passion for the material she researches and teaches is readily apparent to her students. “Dr. Franco-Zamudio – or ‘Dr. J’ as she is known to her students – is full of knowledge and full of life,” says Spring Hill senior Barry Murray, who has taken many of her classes and worked on several research projects with her. “Whether it’s writing a paper on stereotyping or working with her on a community project like my internship with Lifelines Counseling, ‘Dr. J’ inspires you to learn.” Murray, who is involved in several organizations on campus including the Men of Color Council, which focuses on leadership, says ‘Dr. J’ has helped inspire his goal of pursing advanced degrees in counseling.
After completing her doctoral studies in social psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Franco-Zamudio joined the faculty at Spring Hill College in 2009. “It seemed perfect to come to Spring Hill because I not only wanted to teach, but also engage in research and community work,” she says. With a primary research interest in social justice and identity, Franco-Zamudio has published numerous articles and papers and is also engaged in writing a textbook for teaching the psychology of social justice. She is also beginning a three-year term on the Governing Council of Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), Division 9 of the American Psychological Association.
Franco-Zamudio says she strives to get students involved in research, a practice that echoes her approach in the classroom: “Our students love hands-on experiential learning. They are very interested in learning about theory, but they really appreciate the application. So I try to think of assignments where they can actively engage with the material. I have them doing research, creating measures and doing case studies on justice issues that they post around campus. I want them to be active and have the tools to make a difference.”
“Jamie is tireless when it comes to working with her students and teaching them about social justice,” says Lisa Hager, PhD, professor and division chair in Spring Hill’s Department of Psychology. “…Not just teaching them, but having them get involved in social justice activities to spark interest in them and get experience that could help them in their professional lives.”
“Being out in the community means a lot to me,” says Franco-Zamudio. “It also enables me to make the connections I need so that I can get our students involved in community work.” She currently serves on the board of Lifelines Counseling, an organization that provides a variety of psychological support services and counseling to families and children.
Franco-Zamudio added: “My family is very happy to be in Mobile and at Spring Hill. My daughter is a sophomore here and on the cheerleading squad. Truly, this is my vocation. It’s a calling. This is what I needed to do in order to feel like I was making a difference in the world.”
Visit the website for the Department of Psychology to learn more about the program.