Brett Stoudt: Drawn to The Graduate Center's Public Mission, First as a Student and Now as a Professor

February 11, 2020

He now spearheads the only academic department in the U.S. devoted to critical psychology, a discipline in which scholars actively oppose oppression and work toward greater social justice.

Professor Brett Stoudt (Ph.D. '09, Psychology) (Credit: The Graduate Center/Alex Irklievski)
Professor Brett Stoudt (Ph.D. '09, Psychology) (Credit: The Graduate Center/Alex Irklievski)

As a first-year undergraduate at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Professor Brett Stoudt (Ph.D. ’09, Psychology) enrolled in a feminist philosophy course, primarily because it fit an available slot on his schedule. But it was the kind of class that led to an intellectual awakening, and soon Stoudt, who’d grown up in a nearby town and had started college intending to become a therapist, was taking courses in social science, philosophy, and religion, leading him to consider new perspectives of social justice.
He also discovered a love for research. An article about CUNY, which was under siege from then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, caught his attention. “It was this dream of a public school for the public good, with a mission to educate everyone, especially those who are seldom given access, like the poor and working class,” he says. “I was really drawn to this mission.”
Stoudt has been a part of The Graduate Center and CUNY ever since. After earning his Ph.D. at The Graduate Center, he joined the John Jay College of Criminal Justice as the first hire of their newly established Gender Studies Program, with a joint appointment in their psychology department. Soon after, he became the associate director of The Graduate Center’s Public Science Project, and joined both the psychology and social welfare doctoral programs. And in 2018, he became the head of Critical Social/Personality and Environmental Psychology, one of 10 areas of The Graduate Center’s Ph.D. Program in Psychology.

It is, to Stoudt’s knowledge, the only department in the United States specifically dedicated to critical psychology. The discipline draws on many of the areas and issues that originally pulled him to The Graduate Center. It is a field influenced by critical theories including feminist, queer, indigenous and critical race theories, with a goal to center people often pushed to the margins. Unlike many academic disciplines, it is one in which scholars have a clear political stance, actively opposing oppressive structures and working toward greater social justice.
For all these reasons, Stoudt sees The Graduate Center as the program’s natural home. “The Graduate Center is a special place, and is famous for being a very public-oriented, for-the-public-good institution,” he says. “The type of scholars who find their way to CUNY and to The Graduate Center in particular tend to hold these values, and not just in my program, but across the social sciences and humanities. I think The Graduate Center is lucky to have our critical psychology program, and we are lucky to have it housed here.”
Stoudt practices participatory action research, or PAR. It is an approach closely connected to the values of critical psychology and is the principal design, method and ethic of the Public Science Project at The Graduate Center, Stoudt says. PAR positions those who are most closely impacted by the issues of concern as partners in shaping research questions, interpreting data, and putting the findings to use. “We incorporate many types of qualitative and quantitative methods, but in a way that tends to be more inclusive, collaborative, and bottom-up,” he says. “It’s an iterative, flexible, grounded approach to research,” he explains, that attends closely to power dynamics. “My own privilege is connected to the burdens and harms of other people,” Stoudt says, noting his identity as a straight, cisgender, white male. “I have benefited from oppressive structures. And I recognize that it’s my responsibility to work towards dismantling those structures.”  

One of his current PAR projects, called the Youth Justice Research Collaborative, includes lawyers, social workers, organizers, students, and impacted youth working together to evaluate the new law that raised the age of adult prosecution to 18 in New York state. “Through systematic court watching, interviews with young people, and a public defender survey, we’re seeing if the policy is being implemented as intended, and whether there are unexpected consequences,” Stoudt says.   
In addition to his ongoing research projects, Stoudt is looking forward to working closely with students. “I’m so happy to be at The Graduate Center, and feel really lucky to have an opportunity to work closely with doctoral students and to help contribute to our strong doctoral community,” he says. “I hope I get to do this for a very long time.”