Former St. Mary’s Professor Investigates the Self

Dr. Terell Lasane spoke on Friday, Dec. 4 about his personal experiences as a “black, gay, and financially challenged” man and how these aspects of his self have affected his view of the world and his research in psychology.

Dr. Lasane, a professor of psychology at the College until 2008, covered several issues in the lecture entitled, “Gender Role Orientation and Sexual Orientation in Elucidating College Student Academic Behavior” as part of the Psychology Diversity Series.

He spoke on the idea of the self and the concept of subjectivity in research and was able to connect this thought to his recent research findings on gender role’s effect on academic performance with a chapter he wrote for the book, “Resilience: Queer Professors from the Working Class.”

The lecture began with Lasane questioning the role of the self in psychology, explaining that attempts have been made to remove the self and personal experiences from psychological research. He said, “the self creates a biased perception of the world,” but that the self should be put back into psychology.

Why should the self, which by its very definition biases perceptions, be put back into scientific study? Lasane argued that it is nearly impossible to remove that aspect from one’s work and that it can have a significant and cogent effect on one’s work.
The chapter that he read helped elucidate this point. He described growing up as a racial minority during his elementary and middle school years, in a poor family and then later as a minority because of his sexual orientation. He said he spent much of his school years “wonder[ing] where [he] belonged.”

He was always invested in high academic achievement, which set him apart from many of his peers and marked him as acting and speaking “white.” Already ostracized for acting feminine and different from his peers, his sexual orientation was yet another hurdle he had to overcome.

Even his family “feared more than anything of [him] being homosexual,” Lasane said. He pointed out that his social class, racial identity, and sexual orientation all shaped his identity, personality and self.

Due to his experiences growing up, who he had become, and his interest in social psychology, Lasane went on to teach and study the impacts of culture and social experience on individual’s behavior.

The findings he presented came from a studies investigating whether studying was a “gendered” activity and correlates with academic behavior.

In his research, Lasane has found that academic success was seen as more masculine than feminine, that students who were less interested in academics were seen as more socially attractive, women were more likely to self-report studying, and that it was more attractive for men to have high levels of achievement without apparent effort.

The lecture ended with Lasane reiterating his most important points, specifically that personal experience does influence supposedly objective research. Because of this fact, it is important to recognize and accept these variations and the effects of personal experiences.

Students in attendance enjoyed hearing Lasane speak and his unique viewpoints. Junior Alexa Milroy said, “Even coming from a non-psychology background, I found the findings really intriguing. It opened my eyes to the inner workings of psychology.”

Seniors Patrick and Sean Piantadosi, former students of Lasane, both attended the lecture. Patrick said, “It was pretty inspiring the way he related his story to social psychology.”

Sean said, “Even after two years of not teaching, he showed he’s still passionate about his world.”

Lasane’s final point was a call to action: to diversify, reframe, reinterpret, and engage in critical dialogue about the field of psychology and the impact of the self. Lasane said, “If we share diverse experiences, it can only help strengthen our understanding of diverse human experiences.”

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