Kendell Coker, Ph.D., JD, 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 was the journal itself that inspired him as a young scholar.
November 10, 2021
When Kendell Coker, Ph.D., JD, was considering which direction he wanted to take when writing his thesis, he discovered an academic journal article examining the normalization of violence among inner city youth. The research resonated with him, and he knew that was what he wanted to write about and focus on in his own work. The article appeared in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, the peer-reviewed journal of which Dr. Coker was recently named co-editor.
Years after the publication of his thesis, Dr Coker was asked to do an ad hoc review for the journal which is published every two months. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry is a journal of the American Psychological Association which is the principal publication of the Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice.
“Who would have thought that an article that would serve as a framework for my thesis would be in the journal of which I ended up being editor-in-chief years later? Said Dr Coker, associate professor of psychology at the University. “It almost seems there is something fortuitous about it, and it reminds me of the saying that if you’re lucky your career chooses you. I think that says so much about this journal and the connection I felt with it, as well as the topics the journal focuses on.
“I hope to continue to highlight research on social justice topics”
Serendipity may have also played a role in Dr. Coker’s career path as psychology and law were the only two professions he declared early on that he would never go to. He now has advanced degrees in both.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Dr Coker noticed that the opportunities present in some communities were not as available in others. This sparked his interest in social justice. He then began to explore 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 going to college,” he explains. “Why didn’t I jump when I heard them before?” By being exposed to violence in the community, I normalized myself there.
Dr. Coker’s passion for social justice is reflected in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, he says, as it is one of the main themes of the articles he presents. 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 the students are not afraid of their own potential for success. This is an important lesson for the students and for everyone.”Kendell Coker, Ph.D., JD
“The previous editors have done a great job, and I hope to continue to highlight research on social justice topics,” said Dr Coker. “It is important not to wait until the subjects are in the foreground but to be preventive. It’s critical not only to think about what’s important now, but to be proactive and consider the issues that are bubbling beneath the surface.
“Serving in such a prestigious position is something I cannot even put into words”
Dr Coker wants to highlight research that will lead to significant change across the country and around the world. He hopes this will be a way to highlight populations in need of support and a tool to help tackle mental health challenges before they become difficult to manage.
Excited by the opportunities his editorial leadership will create for the University and for its students, Dr Coker hopes this opportunity will strengthen the University’s commitment to social justice. An advocate for scholarships, he also looks forward to the opportunities they will create for students, such as connecting with authors, learning about the publishing process, and participating in workshops.
“I hope my students will learn from my experience,” he said. “People often think that other people have never been afraid of failure or felt out of place, but I learned to deal with these fears that I had. I hope the students are not afraid of their own potential for success. This is an important lesson for the students, and for everyone.
Dr. Coker’s goals are to publish and promote rigorous research in the journal that promotes inclusiveness and diversity. He is considering ways to make the information in articles digestible and accessible to all students, and he plans to include it in this process.
“As a member of an underserved population, being in such a prestigious position is something that I cannot even express in words,” said Dr Coker. “We don’t always think of the possibilities, and I really never thought I would be able to. As a person passionate about the areas where the stock market can go. I am now in a position to contribute to this landscape.