#GCStories: Steph Anderson

Steph Anderson, Ph.D. '16 (Psychology)


The second profile in a short series about GC students graduating this June, as told in their own words.


I received my undergraduate degree from a small liberal arts college. I have often said that it was there that I learned how to think — about the world and multiple forms and levels of injustice.

Now that I’m graduating from the Critical Social/Personality Psychology doctoral program, I can say that the GC has taught me how to better be — how to better exist and take action in the world individually in everyday life and professionally. 

My dissertation looks at the role of gender expression and race in antigay discriminatory encounters from two perspectives: those who are targets of discrimination (i.e., cisgender and transgender LGBQ individuals) and those who may discriminate (i.e., straight individuals).

Within the psychological literature, antigay discrimination is predominantly characterized as a response to an individual’s same-gender sexual orientation, rather than other factors. Because sexual orientation is always understood in relation to racialized gender norms, attention to gender expression — how one “does” gender — is also necessary. 
 
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Essentially, I wanted to explore the gendered nature of homophobia, to draw attention to how discrimination against LGBQ people is deeply entrenched within societal beliefs about how we “should” be, look, dress and act in relation to our birth-assigned gender. I wanted to attend to the complexity of LGBQ experience, to take into account how our multiple selves (based upon our race, gender expression, sexual orientation, etc.) inform how others perceive us and how we interpret our own experiences. 

Ultimately, I wanted to produce research that would be useful both for public policy makers as well as for clinical practitioners who work with LGBQ individuals. 
 
Graduate school has been as much a process of self-awareness as it has been nurturing, grounding and expanding my intellectual curiosity. As a discipline, psychology can be a bit stuffy, elitist and narrowly focused. What drew me to the GC more generally and to critical social/personality psychology in particular was the focus on interdisciplinarity.

Over the nine years it’s taken me to complete my study here (and for the record, that’s not a number I feel embarrassed about), I've surveyed a wide range of approaches to understand social issues and how to best strive toward social justice based upon empirical research. 
 
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The faculty of Critical Social/Personality Psychology has been essential in this journey, in particular my advisor, Distinguished Professor Michelle Fine. She encouraged me early on in my graduate school career to explore the depth and breadth of my research interests, including a foray in film school. I attribute my multifaceted growth as a scholar to her untiring support and willingness to journey with me “outside the box.” 

Other faculty, specifically Professor Deborah Tolman, and my graduate school colleagues have also been invaluable. Contrary to the myth of individuality within academia, great ideas and projects result from a community of scholars. Throughout my time here, I’ve been in a working group on gender and sexuality, led by Deb. My dissertation and even my film work have been greatly shaped by these interactions and weekly dialogues. 
 
I’m not certain whether my next steps will be inside or outside of academia. I do know, though, that my work will forever be a product of my time here and the relationships I’ve had — with faculty, other graduate students, undergrads I’ve taught — and the opportunities inherent in living in vibrant New York City. A “nature person” at heart, I never really wanted to live here. Now, at the end, I am so grateful that I did. 


Steph Anderson's documentary short, “purple shoelaces,” premiered at the HBO Theatre in 2012. Complementing her dissertation, the film is a portrait of the Women’s Division of the New York City Gay Basketball League and explores experiences of gender, sexuality, and camaraderie on and off the court. She teaches courses in Psychology of Women and Human Sexuality at Hunter College.
 

Submitted on: MAY 26, 2016

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