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For many students, navigating academia can be a daunting experience. It can be even more challenging for students from underrepresented groups on campus.

“That is why it is important for students to have role models and mentors who identify with students’ experiences,” said Jioni Lewis, assistant professor of psychology.

Lewis, a first-generation college graduate, has filled this role for many of her students, from undergraduates in her African American psychology course to doctoral students in counseling psychology who seek her out for life and career guidance.

Cecile Gadson, a fifth-year PhD candidate from Beavercreek, Ohio, arrived at UT with confidence knowing she’d have Lewis as a sounding board.

“I knew I was signing up to work with a mentor who has a lot of energy, who would advocate for me, and who knows firsthand how to navigate the challenges and successes that I will face in the years ahead,” Gadson said.

In recent years, Lewis’s dedication to her students has been lauded alongside her notable research on the intersections of gender and racial discrimination. In January, she was recognized by the American Psychological Association at its National Multicultural Conference and Summit with a Rising Star award, an honor given to early-career professionals who demonstrate a strong commitment to multicultural research, teaching, and social justice advocacy in the field of psychology. In August 2018, Lewis received the APA’s Charles and Shirley Thomas Award for her significant contributions in the area of student mentoring and development and her work toward making psychology responsive and relevant to the needs of the African American community.

“I try to engage in culturally responsive mentoring and build a collaborative relationship with my students so they can develop a sense of empowerment and self-efficacy in their learning,” Lewis said.

Lewis also mentors her doctoral students about the process of conducting research. She and three of her doctoral students, including Gadson, coauthored the journal article “Applying Intersectionality to Explore the Relations Between Gendered Racism and Health among Black Women,” which was published in the top journal in her field, the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

Anahvia Moody, a third-year PhD student from Stratford, Connecticut, is a coauthor with Lewis of the upcoming journal article “Gendered Racial Microaggressions and Traumatic Stress Symptoms among Black Women,” which will be published in Psychology of Women Quarterly. The article isbased on Moody’s master’s thesis project.

Moody appreciates the time Lewis invests in her as a both a person and a student.

“This was the first time I ever took the lead on developing, conducting, analyzing, and writing up a study from start to finish,” Moody said. “At every step, Dr. Lewis allowed my ideas to blossom and provided support to make the paper as strong as it could be.”

An expert in multicultural psychology, Lewis knows she is preparing students like Gadson and Moody to work with clients from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. She wants to support and challenge them to ensure they are ready for their professional futures.

“I want my students to have the awareness, knowledge, and skills that are essential to become culturally competent psychologists,” Lewis said.

Gadson is currently applying for predoctoral clinical internships as she prepares for a career as a psychologist in community mental health, and she said working with Lewis has helped equip her with the tools she needs to succeed.

“Dr. Lewis puts in the extra hours to make sure her students know what is coming ahead and can adjust,” Gadson said. “The way we present ourselves is a reflection of her investment in us.”

Lewis co-founded UT’s Critical Race Collective, an interdisciplinary community of scholars who use critical race theory in their research, teaching, and service. She also serves on the Council for Diversity and Interculturalism and the Commission for Blacks.

CONTACT:

Brian Canever (865-974-0937, bcanever@utk.edu)

Amanda Womac (865-974-2992, awomac1@utk.edu)