On January 23, Rutgers University-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor announced that Dr. Jacqueline Mattis will be appointed the next Dean of SASN, effective July 1, 2020.
Following a national search co-chaired by Executive Vice Chancellor Sherri-Ann Butterfield and African American and African Studies Department Chair John Keene, Mattis emerged as the leading candidate. “A deeply experienced, empathetic, and effective academic leader, an interdisciplinary scholar-teacher of remarkable breadth of expertise with a strong track record of sponsored research funding, and a beloved mentor of junior colleagues and students alike, Jacquie rose to the top of an extremely strong and impressive field of nationally competitive candidates,” said Cantor.
Mattis will also assume the role of Professor of Psychology when she arrives at RU-N. She is currently at the University of Michigan serving as Professor of Psychology, Associate Chair of the Psychology Department, and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Black Youth in Context. A clinical psychologist by training, she earned her B.A. in psychology at New York University and master’s and Ph.D. in psychology at Michigan.
We asked Mattis a few questions so the Rutgers-Newark community could get to know her better.
Welcome to the School of Arts & Sciences! What first attracted you to Rutgers-Newark?
More than anything, the vision and the people. The work I do focuses on rethinking urban spaces, and understanding people who live in urban centers as people who have strengths that are being ignored. I study altruism and love and compassion in urban centers, especially low-income urban centers. I’m attracted to cities and urban places because I come from one, and people who live in urban places are so misrepresented.
Rutgers-Newark is an incredible site of transformation. Having access to opportunities as dean to participate with students and faculty and staff who are in the midst of doing some really incredible work – how can I pass on that?
I also lived in Newark for six years before coming out here. I own a home and a business there.
Do you have any goals for your first months here?
The principle goal for me is to spend a lot of time listening. I genuinely want to support the work that is being done there and the work that can be done there and there’s no way for me to do that unless I make the decision to be quiet and just ask people big questions, and then just shut up and listen.
Rutgers-Newark is an incredible site of transformation
Hanging out where people hang out without being intrusive is important, so wherever the students eat, hang out, or do the work that they do, I want to be there so that I can engage with them and have them engage with me. I’m sure they’re going to have questions or challenges or needs to articulate, and there are only so many students I will meet if those meetings are prearranged, because they’ll be with students who have a particular position. I also want to talk to the students who have to get off campus quickly because they have to get home. Wherever they are is where I want to be, because I need to understand and hear them, and I can’t hear them if I’m not with them.
Can you talk about your journey to becoming a psychologist and then administration?
It was never my intention to go into administration. I’m a psychologist in part because I watched my mom and my grandmother care for people. They had a capacity to see grace in moments with people where other people didn’t. They also understood how behaviors that might be misunderstood were a reflection of bigger dynamics. They read into that the most beautiful aspects of who people were, and an appreciation for the fragility of the human struggle, so I grew up with those ways of seeing people. The only profession other than being a theologian – which I did not want to do – that would allow me to do that was psychology. A psychology class in high school turned me on to the idea that there were ways of understanding the human story, and then using the understanding of human stories to get to human strengths.
I do leadership work not because I’m interested in leadership positions. I never wanted to be chair of a department. I took on those roles because in the department where I was chair, I had amazing students and colleagues, but if you want to maximize the opportunity for people, then you have to be willing to roll your sleeves up and take obstacles out of their way, and put things in their path that they need. I became chair because like my mother said, “You lose the ability to complain if you won’t do anything to help.”
I honestly wouldn’t do this in any other context except Rutgers-Newark. It’s the place and the opportunity to be useful that I’m looking forward to.
Tell us a little bit about yourself outside of your professional interests.
I’m a painter. My siblings and I all draw and paint, because one of the ways my mom kept us engaged was stacks of white paper and crayons and drawing materials.
I’m doing a series of paintings right now on hands – women’s hands in particular. The last of the series will be my mom’s hands. I think we can learn a lot about who people are in space by their hands.
I don’t think of myself as an artist. I’m somebody who does art. But the art matters to me and I do think about it as a part of my work as an academic. I always give students the opportunity not to write papers but to figure out how to communicate meaningful content in ways that would be accessible to people who aren’t in the academy. If you can use a mural to communicate science then you understand science in a particular way that will make you accessible as a scholar. If I want to be able to represent the intangible beauty of human beings, I can paint it in ways that I can’t always say it. I do spoken word because of the same thing. There are things I can do with the rhythm of language that I can’t do in a journal article.
It makes me listen to people. If I have colleagues in the arts, or geography, or physics, the beauty of the language that they use to represent a world that they see that I don’t is what makes me pay attention.
What is one thing you want students and faculty and staff to know about you?
The most important thing is that they matter to me. None of this makes sense without the people. It matters that we have brilliant, amazing, incredible, creative students who need to figure out how they’re going to pay for school. Part of my job is making sure that people who have something to contribute to the world get to do it.
Will Smith has this statement that I love, which is he may not be the best actor in the world, but you’re not going to outwork him. I didn’t go to school to learn how to be a dean. That was not in the plan. But you will not outwork me. My job is to work hella hard to make sure students, faculty, and staff have what they need to do their thing, and then I’ll get out of the way.