Kecia Thomas, a professor of psychology and African American studies and an associate dean in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, hopes students see her as an ally and advocate for them.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology and Spanish from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania and my master’s degree and Ph.D. in industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology from The Pennsylvania State University. I currently serve as an associate dean for faculty leadership development and diversity within the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences as well as a professor of psychology and African American studies. I’m also the founding director of a Franklin program, the Center for Research and Engagement in Diversity.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I began my career at UGA in 1993. It was my first job out of graduate school.
What are your favorite courses and why?
That is a difficult question. I’ve taught a senior/graduate seminar on the “Psychology of Prejudice” as well as doctoral courses on racial identity and on workplace diversity. I enjoy all of them because of the transformative nature of the material and the process for the students as well as for myself. In each class we aspire to be better consumers of the information overload that we are confronted with daily, especially as it relates to diversity. Diversity science enables us to put these conversations within a historical, social, as well as scientific context that empowers students to better understand others’ realities and make better choices for their own behavior, especially as it relates to their future leadership. I hope students leave my courses understanding that discrimination today is rarely overt and hostile, but often systemic, covert and sometimes even well intentioned.
What interests you about your field?
If I were to narrow my field of I/O psychology to the study of workplace diversity, I would say I’m passionate about two issues. The first is that our work gives visibility and voice to the invisible and voiceless. Second, our work leads to more effective workplaces through practices that support those “invisible workers.” For the last several years my students and I have received an overwhelming number of requests to discuss our work as it relates to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workplaces. We have current projects related to the experiences of professional women of color in STEM workplaces and the roles of diversity ideologies as potential barriers to racial diversity and inclusion in STEM disciplines.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I have been incredibly fortunate to have cultivated a career at UGA that has led to many articles, books, grants and awards. As a “first-gen” college student, I’ve certainly accomplished far more than most people would have thought possible, myself included. However, without a doubt the highlight of my time at UGA has been the hooding of each one of my doctoral students. It is a privilege to be able to support a young scholar in the development of his or her career and then witness their launch as a scientist-practitioner but also as a colleague and a friend.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
They are so completely intertwined that it is difficult to disentangle them. Certainly my research program reinforces for me the importance of “getting it right” in the classroom and impressing upon students and modeling for them the importance of being an effective and inclusive leader. The interaction among professors and students results in a constant process of fine-tuning our theories, hypotheses and methodologies.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
Of course I hope they become more critical thinkers and come to appreciate the multiple ways in which we all have and lack invisible and unearned privileges that can either propel or derail our careers. As future leaders they leave class better informed but also charged with the responsibility of disrupting everyday forms of prejudice and dismantling systems of oppression that limit individual and subsequently organizational effectiveness. I also hope they leave class seeing me as an ally and advocate for them personally.
Describe your ideal student.
One who enjoys learning and is open to differences and is willing to experience momentary discomfort in order to become more effective through developing cultural competence.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I appreciate having an office on North Campus and I’ve always enjoyed meandering through the Georgia Museum of Art and attending the Institute for Women’s Studies Friday Speaker Series when I can. I also try not to miss the IWS Andrea Carson Coley lecture.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
I’m from New Jersey, so whenever I can I want to see and hear the ocean. In a pinch, a lake will do!
Community/civic involvement includes….
I am a single mom to a high school freshman (Jordan) and a senior (Chad). Both are extremely active and talented and so my time is very limited! People who know my kids readily understand that I am the slacker in our household.
In the past I’ve reviewed for the Jeanette Rankin scholarship competition and served on the board of the Georgia Conflict Center. Currently, I’m an active booster and volunteer for Clarke Central’s volleyball team and their Odyssey newsmagazine. Given my daughter’s life-changing experiences with Girls Rock and with Camp Amped, I plan on being a long-term supporter of both of those groups. As a psychologist and mom, I’m especially looking forward to becoming more involved with the important work of Nuci’s Space as the nest empties.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I love anything written by Pearl Cleage or Joshilyn Jackson. I enjoy the contemporary focus of their work and the Southern voice and humor to which I have become accustomed the last 21 years. My teenagers and graduate students will cringe, but I have always been a fan of Mel Brooks. “Blazing Saddles” is my favorite movie. I appreciate art that is somewhat irreverent and unafraid to directly confront our stereotypes and biases. I’ve recently become a fan of a local blogger, Ashley Garrett, who writes “Baddest Mother Ever.”Again, she presents the beautiful reality of motherhood without a frosting-filter.
Proudest moment at UGA?
There truly isn’t one. Every time a student accomplishes a goal and I was there to teach, mentor and guide, I’m a proud prof. Having my most recent Ph.D. student obtain a job as a tenure-track faculty member in a department (at another institution) that is led by my first Ph.D. student is also pretty amazing.
In 2009, I became an elected Fellow of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology, which was very unexpected. I was only the third African-American and first black woman to receive this recognition. I’m also a Fellow of the American Psychological Association.
Originally published Jan. 4, 2015