About Valerie Jones Taylor, Ph.D.

Dr. Valerie Jones Taylor is a professor of Psychology at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. She is an experimental social psychologist, and she holds a joint appointment in the Africana Studies Program at Lehigh University. She earned a doctorate in social psychology at Stanford University and a B.A. in psychology and ethnic studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Before joining Lehigh’s faculty, Taylor served as an assistant professor at Spelman College and was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University.

Broadly, her research centers on exploring two sides of an issue that educators and policy makers have struggled to untangle—why and when “diversity” (and with it, greater intergroup and interracial contact) might hurt or help individuals and institutions. Much research has shown the benefits of diversity across domains, in schools, workplaces, and even neighborhoods. However, with increasing diversity and greater contact among individuals 

with different social identities comes the possibility that people might experience social identity threat—the concern or worry that one may be treated or judged negatively based on one’s social group membership. Thus, as diversity and intergroup contact increases, pressing identity-related questions soon arise.

Addressing this issue, across several lines of research, Dr. Valerie Jones Taylor seeks to answer various identity-related questions, particularly when negative group stereotypes are salient. For example, why are high potential women’s and minorities’ performance undermined in academic and workplace contexts where they are underrepresented and negatively stereotyped? Why do coworkers of different racial backgrounds sometimes have difficult interactions, which can derail their ability to perform well and work effectively together? As our nation continues to diversify, why do negative stereotypes about the spaces occupied by racial group members continue to disadvantage minority neighborhoods and bias policy? And, most importantly, what strategies can be leveraged to reduce the opportunity gap, improve inter-group relations, and promote more equitable policy-making at both the individual and institutional level? In her work, she draws on theories such as social identity threat, and apply frameworks such as models of stress and coping and social cognitive inter-group processes, to answer such questions that loom large for those working to implement successful diversity strategies to reduce inequities and promote positive social change.

Intellectual Roots

My intellectual interests are firmly rooted in understanding the psychology and motivations of the marginalized and the structures that maintain social inequities. As an undergrad, I was confronted with statistics that minorities scored one standard deviation below that of their White peers on standardized tests, evolutionary theories explaining our inherent discomfort interacting with racial groups different from ourselves, and the unchallenged racist remarks of a law professor explaining the intellectual deficiencies of minorities. I was taken aback but intrigued. I was struck by the fact that such data and arguments were not frivolous claims based solely on emotion, but heavily researched, debated, and in some cases, tested claims that had to be taken seriously. My quest to understand such statistics and the basis of such arguments led me to social psychology, a subfield of psychology that examines how people’s social context affects their thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. This particular approach gave me a lens through which I could explore psychological, social, and structural factors that might, for instance, undermine a minority students’ academic performance, discourage interracial interactions, or lead a person to express racial animus. Now, as a social psychologist, I use this lens to teach students how people and groups perceive race, experience race, and engage in interracial interactions. It is from this lens that I construct courses and assignments that require students to critically examine social psychological theory and research that speaks to these issues and devise solutions to solve pressing social issues.

Awards and Honors

– Lehigh University Mellon Humanities Lab Course Development Teaching Grant; VR course, 2020
– Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning Faculty Fellowship, Lehigh University, 2019 & 2020
– Nominated for the Spelman College Excellence in Teaching Award, 2015 & 2016
– National Science Foundation, Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Grant Award, 2012-2017
– Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2011-2012
– National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2009-2011

Current Courses

Undergraduate

Social Psychology 🗎
The Doing and Undoing of Racism: A Historical, Legal, and Social Psychological Perspective 🗎
Creative Inquiry Course – Re-Writing the Script: Virtual Reality to Transform Race Relations 🗎
Science of Virtual Reality: Empathy, Ethics, and Social Justice (Spring 2021)
Statistics in Psychology I – Univariate (Spelman College) 🗎
Statistics in Psychology II – Multivariate (Spelman College) 🗎

Graduate

The Psychology of Racism: Causes and Cures 🗎