The Charger Blog

Psychology Professor Named Co-Editor of Prestigious Academic Journal

Kendell Coker, Ph.D., J.D., will soon begin a five-year term as co-editor of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on social justice and behavioral health. It is the very journal that inspired him as a young scholar.

November 10, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Kendell Coker, Ph.D., J.D. holding an issue of American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
Kendell Coker, Ph.D., J.D., with a recent issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

When Kendell Coker, Ph.D., J.D., was considering the direction he wanted to take when writing his dissertation, he discovered an academic journal article examining the normalization of violence among inner-city youth. The research resonated with him, and he knew it was what he wanted to write about and focus on in his own work. The article appeared in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, the esteemed peer-reviewed journal that Dr. Coker was recently named co-editor of.

Years after publishing his dissertation, Dr. Coker was asked to do an adhoc review for the journal that is released bimonthly. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry is an American Psychological Association journal that is the principal publication of the Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice.

“Who would’ve thought an article that ended up serving as the framework for my dissertation would be in the journal that I ended up becoming an editor for years later?” said Dr. Coker, an associate professor of psychology at the University. “It almost seems there’s something serendipitous about that, and it reminds me of the saying that, if you’re lucky, your career chooses you. I think it also says a lot about that journal and the connection I felt to it, as well as the topics the journal focuses on.”

‘I hope to continue to highlight research dedicated to social justice topics’

Serendipity may have also played a role in Dr. Coker’s career path in that psychology and the law were the only two professions he said at an early age that he’d never go into. He now has advanced degrees in both.

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Dr. Coker noticed that the opportunities present in certain communities were not as available in others. That sparked his interest in social justice. He later began exploring the impact of violence on communities – something he experienced firsthand. He had a particularly eye-opening experience as an undergraduate student at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

“The first time I jumped when I heard a gunshot was after I’d been away at college,” he explains. “Why didn’t I jump when I heard them before? Through exposure to violence in the community, I became normalized to it.”

Dr. Coker’s passion for social justice is reflected in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, he says, as that is a major focus of the articles it features. Recent issues have included research on topics such as race-related stress, attitudes toward guns and mental illness, and psychological science and COVID-19.

"I hope students won’t be afraid of their own potential for success. This is an important lesson for students, and for everyone."Kendell Coker, Ph.D., J.D.

“The previous editors did a great job, and I hope to continue to highlight research dedicated to social justice topics,” said Dr. Coker. “It’s important not to wait until topics are at the forefront but to be preemptive. It’s critical to not only think about what’s important now, but to be proactive and consider issues that are bubbling beneath the surface.”

‘Serving in such a prestigious capacity is something I can’t even put into words’

Dr. Coker wants to highlight research that will lead to meaningful change across the country and around the world. He hopes it will be a way to highlight populations in need of support and as a tool to help address mental health challenges before they become difficult to manage.

Excited about the opportunities his editorship will create for the University and for his students, Dr. Coker hopes the opportunity will further the University’s commitment to social justice. An advocate for student scholarship, he also looks forward to the opportunities it will create for students, such as connecting with authors, learning about the publication process, and taking part in workshops.

“I hope my students learn from my experience,” he said. “People often think others have never had fears of failure or that they’ve never felt like they didn’t belong, but I learned to navigate those fears that I had. I hope students won’t be afraid of their own potential for success. This is an important lesson for students, and for everyone.”

Dr. Coker’s goals are to publish and promote rigorous research in the journal that promote inclusivity and diversity. He is brainstorming ways to make the information in the articles digestible and accessible to all students, and he plans to include them in that process.

“As someone from an underserved population, serving in such a prestigious capacity is something I can’t even put into words,” said Dr. Coker. “We don’t always think about what the possibilities can be, and I truly never thought I’d be in a position to do this. As someone who is passionate about where scholarship can go. I’m now in a position to contribute to that landscape.”