The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

The Department of Psychology


An interview

D. Lewis

The most recent addition to our Psychology Department faculty is a native Californian who is often mistaken for a student by those who don't know her. She holds a Ph.D. major in Social Psychology and a Ph.D. minor in Statistics, both from the University of Minnesota. She also holds a B.A. in English. Dr. Regan recently shared some of her valuable time with The Looking Glass to give us an opportunity to introduce her more fully to Psychology Department students via this interview.

TLG: I understand you had several options for employment prior to coming to CSLA. What were the factors that contributed to your acceptance of this position? Was coming back to California a factor?

Regan: Coming home was definitely one of the reasons for taking this position. I love living in other parts of the country and I've been really lucky because education has taken me to other parts of the country, from the Midwest to the East Coast, to small towns and large cities. I think all too often we stay in one place all of our lives, when, in fact, the United States are pretty neat and there are lots of things you can see and experience. I think it really helps to have that exposure. But, my family is from this area. I grew up here and my social network is still here. There's also really no other city, I think, just from having lived in a number of places, where a family like mine can exist comfortably. We're a broad, extended family; we're multi-ethnic and we work in a variety of jobs. You can find that in other big cities. You can find that in cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, but Los Angeles is a rather unique place. I have a love-hate relationship with it. I don't like the smog, the crowding, the expense -- especially when you're commuting. But I do love the variety of things I can do and having my family here, not to mention the cultures and the food. It's just great! And, it's really good to be home.

TLG: Would you mind sharing more about your diverse background with us?

Regan: Well, I'm one of six kids. And, through adoption and marriage, we're primarily Caucasian, but we're also African-American, and Latina. My sister, Doris, is from Peru, and now we have more kids in the family. So, for me, it's doubly important to be back here with all of them. You know, Minnesota, as well as many other places I've been, have been very, very ethnically diverse. It has the University which has one of the largest Mung populations and a very large Native American population. I think any big city does and it's very unusual now to find a large city that is mono-cultural. That was part of the reason I chose to come to this campus, but, in addition to that, I have, in particular, always liked the Cal State system.

My dad is a professor at Cal State Domiguez in the Chemistry Department, and I went there for a year. When I left graduate school I wanted a University and I interviewed at a number of larger schools as well as at Cal State. But, I was really interested in a smaller, liberal art college because I was coming from the U of M (University of Minnesota) which is 40,000 students and enormous. So, I thought, well, I think I would like to go back to what I experienced as an undergrad, which was at Williams College, a small liberal arts school. The environment allows you to work closely with students and it just seemed like a very idealized version of education. I certainly enjoyed my two years there. And at that time I realized that, for me, even though I don't mind teaching large classes and having contact with a lot of students, and I really wanted the opportunity to work with graduate students, but I wasn't so certain I wanted the intense pressures of Ph.D. students.

I've seen what the job market was like and it's not a pretty sight. I really didn't know that I wanted to be responsible -- maybe a little selfish on my part -- but I didn't want to have to deal with ensuring employment for all of the Ph.D. students both during their time in graduate school which can take from four to eight to nine or ten years, not to mention afterwards. So, this (CSLA) seemed like a perfect fit in terms of the fact that we have good students, masters level students; but then, they go on and become someone else's responsibility or they enter the workforce. So, for me it seemed perfect and I was very happy to get the job -- I mean I was really delighted.

TLG: So now that you've been here a few quarters, how would you assess your experiences to date?

Regan: Well, it hasn't been as big an adjustment as you might think. I know most students don't realize that I taught at Albion and the University of Minnesota before coming here. In fact, this is my eighth year of teaching. I've even had students who have assumed that I'm still a graduate student. But I do have an extensive amount of teaching experience. I also taught High School English for a year before I went to graduate school.

The good part is that everything I had at Albion, I have here. I have not found it to be a huge adjustment and everyone kept asking, "How's it coming?" I think because I came from a university on the quarter system with big classes, I was prepared to deal with it. You know, you still manage to learn everyone's names and manage to read all the essays in a week; you still manage somehow to do your work. It's challenging -- but being in education is challenging no matter where you are and what types of students you're working with. I mean it's exciting. Every quarter -- new faces, new habits to learn, every class has there own particular interests that they want to develop. My dad said that, too. He's in his fifties and he's been teaching for a long time and he's told me he is never bored. He said the day he walks in a classroom and he's bored, it's time to leave.

I mean, how can you do your job if you're bored. Personally, I can't imagine being bored in education. If you're doing research and keeping up on the field, your lecture notes will change every quarter. Your students want to know about research. Even in Intro (Psych 150), they will walk by and say, "Did you do that article?" They're fascinated that we actually do something other than just stand in front of them and recite. And that's part of our job, not just to teach, but to educate students about what you can do with Psychology. I really don't care if students don't go on in Psychology -- I would love it if they did, but I will not view it as a personal affront it they take Intro and nothing else. I have them for one quarter and my job is to get them excited about what we're doing with it then. And, hopefully, that will inform how they look at current events and what's reported on TV and movies, and gender roles, or whatever. That will inform there understanding of human behavior which they will take with them forever. So regardless of what they do, I just want them to enjoy their time in the classroom, to learn and be excited by it. I wasn't even a Psych major as an undergrad.

TLG: Okay, I didn't realize that. What brought about the change to Psychology?

Regan: I was an English major as an undergraduate -- far removed from Psychology. My Ph.D. is in Social Psychology, my Ph.D. minor is in statistics. You know I love statistics. So, although I've always loved literature, I've also had this scientific side of me too. But, I would never trade the English degree. I love literature. One of the things I love about literature is its portrayals of human behavior. Who better to write about human behavior than novelists, essayists, and poets? I mean, if you want to know about love, you can read a Psych article, but why don't you go back and read one of the romantics, some Austin. That's when you learn about these things. I think I always was interested in the issues I'm studying now; I just approach them now from an empirical perspective whereas before it was from a much more literary and historical perspective. I loved being an English major. I think communicating and knowing how to write and how beautiful language can be is a lesson that is incredibly valuable. Then one day, one of my best friends said he didn't want to take a Psych class by himself and since I had a free period would I please take it with him. So, I said, "Ohhh, why not."

I took this Intro Psych class, a huge lecture; sat through it and was absolutely hooked. Then when we got to Social Psych, it was great, so I decided to take that class and then another and another. I didn't have a major in it because I didn't want to cut up rabbits. So, I didn't do the Physio and I will never do it. One of my advisors suggested I consider Psychology for graduate school and until then I had never thought about it. I was all set to go to Berkeley in the English program, but I decided to defer for a year and I went to Dominguez (CSU Dominguez) and I took fun Psych stuff. Then I took the GRE and was accepted to graduate school, but I didn't know what I was going to do. I knew a lot about what I didn't want to do and decided to just go to graduate school and I never came out of education. I wouldn't change it. Obviously, you need to take enough Psych to get into graduate school, but I also think that in addition to the practical classes to go out into today's world, you need to have History, and Political Science, and English. All of these things are just as important. If you can communicate both verbally and in terms of the written word, you will go far. Where else but college do you have the luxury of reading literature and getting rewarded for it, with the grade? So, you have to have fun, too. If you love your major, you will learn. And I think education should be fun -- not agony. And I believe it will translate into more practical things later on in life.

TLG: What are your plans for the future, specifically with regard to your research and teaching?

Regan: First, my intent is to stay here as long as I can. I also have a very active program of research. I am still working with some students at Albion and I will continue to work with them because that's only fair since I left them. But my last thesis student successfully defended her thesis and that's really my last tie. I do collaborative work with other scholars at other universities and I've always worked with students, so I really have two programs of research. Right now I'm most interested in beliefs about sexuality or cognitions about sexual desire because I think that those beliefs that we hold have really important implications for how we label sexual and romantic interaction. Certainly we do know that in some instances beliefs and attitudes and behavior are strongly linked. Not in all situations, but there is some pretty solid evidence.

There is one area of research that suggests that men who hold rape myths, and that is an attitude or constellation of beliefs, are more likely to be sexually aggressive. So, there's some solid evidence now in the literature that suggests that beliefs about sexuality and behavior are connected. That really provides the impetus for my own research and why it's so important to study these beliefs. I have a broad range of interests in these types of beliefs. I don't just study about sexuality although many of my interests touch on sexuality. I have a paper in press now with a student from Albion, that looks at child sexual abuse and how a child witness' behavior, when she sees the defendant, can affect trial outcome. Teresa Whitlock, a student here, is working with me on a paper looking at seduction strategies or how people communicate sexual attraction to another person. We have finished collecting those data, but we haven't analyzed them yet. I'm sure we'll find some interesting gender differences as far as how direct or indirect people are when communicating attraction, and the communication of feelings in terms of attraction. I'm also working with Jeannie Lum and Lisa Chan on a study looking at sexual harassment and women's likelihood to report it. One of the correlates we are looking at in this study is ethnicity. We'll also look at gender and age, or other factors depending on the range of our sample. That's ongoing research so we don't have any results to report as yet.

I have found the students here very interested in becoming involved in research, and even though I've never taught a masters level class, there has been no shortage of masters students coming to me and saying that they are interested in doing work with me. We have a huge masters program and eighteen full-time professors here, but there aren't enough of us doing research to give them the kind of one-on-one research experiences they crave. And they do crave it -- I don't use that word loosely. They want to understand what it means to be a researcher. Some professors work with large groups of research students; I don't. I like to take one to two students on a particular project and walk them through the entire project so they can be part of every stage: the idea, literature review, the design of the measures, how we put together a consent form, and what it means to debrief if there's deception.

That's why it's been so nice to work with Teresa, Lisa and Jeannie, because they've given me everything I've asked for and more -- both quality and quantity. I had heard mixed things from other professors about the quality of the students here, but there is always a range at any university. I have found you can always find hard-working, smart students, who are willing to learn, so I'm really pleased about my positive experiences here with the students. Theresa and I have recently had a paper accepted for presentation this summer at the Midwestern Psych Association Conference in Chicago. This is some research I started at Albion with another student, and finished here, so the three of us are co-authors. This work looks at people's understanding of what romantic love is and we analyzed all the features that compose it -- so it's a prototype, social cognition approach. I've done some work on obesity stereotype and sexuality. I may do something more with beliefs about sexuality and different groups of people. So, I think I'll stay in that area, but I'm open to working in other areas of interest, if a student comes along with something in the general area. Again, I am very selective and I don't take everyone -- but I will always talk with students about their projects.

In closing, Dr. Regan told me how appreciative she is of the support not only from her colleagues and the students she has encountered in her first two quarters at Cal State, but also from the Department Chair, Dr. Roffe. In her opinion, this is often not the case at other academic institutions and therefore, she wanted to make a point of acknowledging the students and faculty here at Cal State. This writer would suggest you take the time to check out Dr. Regan in action -- perhaps a 150 or 422 lecture (if you can find a seat) -- I think you'll find her lectures informative, invigorating and enjoyable. But, as Dennis Miller would say, "that's just my opinion . . . and I could be wrong." (With tongue in cheek.) From the Looking Glass, we wish Dr. Regan immense success and continued joy as a member of our esteemed Psychology Department faculty.

Prepared -- This edition update by

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