In an effort to increase both departmental diversity and a growing interest in the field of social psychology, the Yale Psychology Department recently hired Valerie Purdie, who is currently doing graduate work on stigmas at Stanford University.

With plans to join the Yale faculty in the fall of 2004 as a junior professor, Purdie will be the second minority female professor to join the department in the past two years. Before she starts teaching at Yale, Purdie will finish her graduate work at Stanford and then serve as a research associate for a year. Purdie’s research focuses on the stigmatized identities that become associated with marginalized minority groups, including blacks, women and the disabled. She said she was especially interested in the impact of diversity on social messages and the ways in which society structures and organizes cultures.

“We’re really excited about her research,” said Graduate School Dean and former psychology chairman Peter Salovey. “She studies about how both African-Americans and whites react to messages of diversity.”

A former varsity basketball player at Columbia University, Purdie served as director of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation of the Southfield Village Public Housing Project in Stamford before doing her graduate work.

While she initially had no interest in graduate work, Purdie said she is now excited about the path it has opened to research and teaching opportunities at Yale.

“[The ‘I Have A Dream’ Foundation] really inspired me, and I try to take that attitude into the classroom,” Purdie said. “I know what it’s like to not be the top student in class or have other interests, but still know how to become successful. I think that that inspires me as well because I think that I can relate to many different types of students.”

Salovey said Purdie’s research was fascinating from both a theoretical and practical point of view.

When she joins the Yale faculty, Purdie said she is likely to teach “Social Psychology” and some upper-level seminars on stigmas. This semester, Susan Rivers GRD ’05 is teaching the course. Rivers’ 25-student limit became problematic when 200 students showed up to the first class.

As a teacher, Purdie said she hopes to fuel student interest in topics and areas they might not know are available. She especially hopes to increase interest in research opportunities, she said.

“Research is not just an ivory tower phenomenon; it’s not just in laboratories,” Purdie said. “It is crucial to improving the areas around us. Yale is very committed to public policy in its Psychology Department and outside. It’s important to get research outside of the classroom.”

Salovey said he was especially excited about Purdie’s potential impact on her students and the diversity she would add to the department. Increasing the diversity of the faculty will help increase the diversity of both graduate students and the field of psychology, he said.

“It’s clear she’s going to be a fabulous teacher,” he said.

Purdie said she hopes to inspire students to realize the implications that research has on their daily lives, both inside and outside the classroom.

“One of the most important things to remember for me is that all of us are research scientists by the way we look at the world and make observations. I really try to pull that out of each person,” Purdie said. “Research is not for an elite special group of students. Anybody can be a researcher. This is something that’s available to any student at Yale.”