New Faculty – Dr. Alexis Jemal

Dr. Alexis Jemal joined the Silberman School of Social Work faculty in Fall 2016 as an Assistant Professor. Prior to joining Silberman, Dr. Jemal earned her PhD from the Rutgers University School of Social Work (New Brunswick, NJ) in June 2016. Dr. Jemal also holds a J.D. from the Rutgers University Law School-Newark.

Dr. Jemal studies the impacts of systemic inequality on the health of African Americans and other vulnerable individuals and communities, along with multi-level strategies for intervention. Together with her practice, her academic work expresses her deep commitment to engaging and developing anti-oppressive theories for action.

Dr. Jemal’s dissertation assessed a theoretical concept known as conscientization, developed by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. Surprised to find little scholarly consensus on it, she set out to define and measure it herself in a way that would be useful for social work and social health research. Ultimately, Dr. Jemal developed an original, viable theory of her own based on Freire’s work, which she has termed “transformative potential for critical consciousness.” This concept frames her ongoing analysis of how African Americans experience racial oppression and white American racial privilege.

Transformative potential is measured using an innovative scale Dr. Jemal created, which combines qualitative metrics like vignette response with quantitative staples like correlation analysis. That approach underlines her enthusiasm for mixed-methods research in social work. “Quantitative and qualitative methods each bring insights that the other can’t,” Dr. Jemal says. “I need both of those sides in my work.”

Dr. Jemal’s research also seeks to elevate another connection she feels is sometimes overlooked: that between theory and practice. In all her work, she vigorously pairs the insights of social theory with the impacts of everyday action and advocacy. Anti-oppression theories like Freire’s cultivate Dr. Jemal’s core belief that “everyone has value and everyone has knowledge.” That foundation then shapes and sharpens her work as a clinical counselor and interventionist in complex, living communities, where she aims to “engage with – not for, or on behalf of – communities and people affected [by inequity].”

Helping people to contextualize and contest the health disparities affecting them “is a clinical intervention in itself,” Dr. Jemal explains, “based in relationships, communities, and social ecologies.” She elaborates, “When we get people together to fight oppression, we make big strides toward better health outcomes for those most oppressed.”

Dr. Jemal’s teaching in the social work classroom amplifies her mission in fieldwork and research, to listen to, learn from, and mobilize the lived experiences of others. “I love when students challenge my own ideas,” she says, “so I like to get myself out of the way and make room for their thoughts, their brilliance.”

She takes seriously a mandate to “educate people in a way that raises awareness,” which for her entails two main goals: “…helping students to help themselves, to become critical thinkers who question their beliefs and assumptions; and then helping them to help others, to act without oppression as social workers”

Dr. Jemal is very happy to be at Silberman, where she teaches the health and mental health platform course, clinical practice, and other courses. She says, “Between the students and the faculty, I am excited to be part of a group of people that I think are progressive and anti-oppressive, to be part of a culture that takes that so seriously.” She adds that “I have heard so much about the caliber and diversity of the students.”

The Silberman School of Social Work is proud to have Dr. Alexis Jemal on the faculty.