Until May of this year, Dr. Jamie Franco-Zamudio was Professor of Psychology and Director of the Organizational Leadership program at Spring Hill College (SHC) for twelve years. When she wasn’t teaching about the psychology of social justice and gender in her courses, “Dr. J,” as she is affectionately known by her students, was also fighting for social justice in the community, serving on various nonprofits that served the marginalized and underrepresented. Originally from Moorpark, California, Dr. J decided it was time to leave her academic career behind for a while and write a new chapter in her life. In June, she moved back home to California, after calling Mobile her home for 12 years. Dr. J has a beloved 23-year old daughter who still resides in Mobile.
Tell us why you chose your profession, the value it brings to you and/or the community:
My first college major was business, which provided me with skills that I draw upon in my current career. After taking classes in psychology, I learned that the aspects of business that I enjoyed the most (e.g., mentoring, leadership, communication) were informed by psychological theory and research. Once I changed disciplines, I understood what organizational psychologists refer to as “person-environment fit.” I found my fit! I ended up receiving my BA in Psychology from Ohio State University and my MS and PhD in Social Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Over the years, I have shifted my academic focus to peace and social justice. I am dedicated to teaching for social justice, that is, developing course content intended to nurture students’ sense of responsibility and encourage advocacy.
Are you involved with the community, any non-profits, etc. and why is that important?
I love working with non-profit organizations. When we moved to Mobile, I became involved in the development of a new nonprofit aimed at providing academic support and mentorship through sports for young men. Several years later, I joined the Board of Lifelines Counseling Services. I am also proud to be a founding board member of Prism United, which works to mitigate “psychological, socio-economic, and academic disadvantages caused by repression and victimization” of LGBTQ+ youth.
What is your vision or hope for women in the Mobile and Gulf Coast communities?
The best aspect of teaching Psychology of Gender is that I developed a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which our gender identity overlaps and intersects with our many other identities, including race/ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status. My hope for women in our community is that they will experience fewer health and economic disparities and gain access to necessary resources. The only way this can happen is if local organizations/businesses gain a greater understanding of diversity and equity, and how their programs or policies could better meet the needs of all women.
What advice or suggestions can you give to women walking the path of empowerment or struggling with self-doubt?
At 51, I still see myself as a work in progress. During my 40s, I did a lot of deep emotional work to let go of old issues and work toward finding peace. In my opinion, one of the most important things we can do on our journey toward empowerment is to let unrealistic expectations go and love ourselves for who we are in that moment. We are often striving toward long-term goals that always seem out of reach. If we take a moment to honor ourselves and support our friends and colleagues for who we are right now, we will likely have a better mindset and feel less pressure to always be more and achieve more. I realize there are many structural and interpersonal barriers that take away our power, so that can be frustrating and painful. In moments of self-doubt, I turn to my friends and we cheer each other on. It helps to feel connected. A lot of my self-worth is derived by being there for others and knowing I have people in my corner, too.
How important has education and/or continuing education been to you?
As a first-generation college student, my formal education is meaningful for both me and my family. I don’t believe we only learn in an academic setting, but the academic setting is so inspiring to me that I made a career out of it!
You seem to really love what you do, tell us why:
It is important for me to connect my personal values related to social justice with professional goals even though it isn’t always pleasant to focus on social justice and social issues. I often feel deflated and upset by the injustices that I see in our world today, but I try to use the upset/outrage to fuel my social change efforts. I make an effort to lead a purposeful life, and I love being able to make even the smallest impact.
“In my opinion, one of the most important things we can do on our journey toward empowerment is to let unrealistic expectations go and love ourselves for who we are in that moment.”
What/who inspires you?
I am inspired by people who laugh and love easily. I am inspired by people who are comfortable being uncomfortable. I am inspired by honesty and truth. What is most inspiring to me is when people are not afraid to be flawed and vulnerable.
What is the hardest part about being a working mom?
Our daughter is in graduate school and working in her career. While I miss the days when I would drive her to dance class, help her with her makeup for a school dance, and hear her music blaring downstairs, I cherish the fact that I get to know her as her own person–as a confident, accomplished, beautiful human-being!