School of Arts & Sciences
Associate Professor of Psychology
I embraced the possibilities of a liberal arts degree.
Dr. Rebecca LaFleur's path to becoming an associate professor of psychology at The College of New Rochelle has been, for the most part, seemingly smooth and natural.
"I was always interested in psychology, even in high school," said the Ashfield, Massachusetts, native. Her nickname back then was "Dr. Becca," because she was a good listener and offered advice to her peers. "They saw me as a counselor or mentor."
But that journey, 26 years in the making, was nearly derailed before it got started. "I was advised and pressured against studying psychology," LaFleur said, "so I started college as a math major."
While she was always good at math, she realized it wasn't for her after taking her first math course at Smith College, a private liberal arts college for women in Northampton, Mass.
After graduating with a BA in psychology, "I didn't think I knew what to do afterwards," LaFleur said. "But I embraced the possibilities of a liberal arts degree."
She decided to keep studying, and entered graduate school at Temple University. "It was a big shift," said LaFleur, who thought she'd become a social psychologist and work in human resources or something similar. But then she got the opportunity to teach as a teaching assistant.
"I taught quite a bit, starting in my second year of graduate school," LaFleur said. "I just like interacting with students." And despite her experiences with math -- or perhaps because of them -- she particularly enjoys teaching statistics, which more than a few students dread.
"I like when you can get them through it and it's not as hard as they thought," said LaFleur. "They appreciate it even more."
LaFleur earned an MA and Ph.D. in social psychology over seven years at Temple. For the last three of those years, she was a full-time adjunct instructor at Arcadia University.
"It was a chance to really get my feet wet with full-time teaching," LaFleur said. While co-ed, the school was a small liberal arts college similar to CNR. She taught lab courses, psychology as a science, and helped students design research projects.
After completing her studies, LaFleur went on the job market. She was willing to go anywhere, but the lifelong East Coast resident said she's glad to have stayed on this side of the country, close to family and friends.
LaFleur first visited in the spring, as the College prepared for the annual Strawberry Festival. "I was struck by the campus," she said. "It was also appealing that it was a women's college -- there's something about an all-women environment that I definitely enjoyed."
Fifteen years after joining the College, the quality of students remains strong, LaFleur said, "although juggling a bit more in terms of responsibilities." She said most students enter psychology with the aim of practicing, and this was her own bias as well when she was starting out. "What students don't realize about the field is how big it is," she said. A 1-credit psychology colloquium course opens up these possibilities to new majors. With between 60 to 70 majors, psychology is one of CNR's larger departments, and many of those students are also getting certifications in education.
In addition to her teaching duties, LaFleur has also been director of the Women's Studies Program for the past two years. It's a field she's always been focused on. At Smith, she studied perceptions of stay-at-home mothers vs. fathers. She assisted her graduate school adviser in studies that examined barriers to the reporting of sexual harassment. Her dissertation, "Perceiving and Managing Feminist Identity: An Exploration of Stigma Management," published in 1999, affirmed a reluctance among most people to think of themselves as feminist, as it affects how other people view them.
LaFleur meets with an all-volunteer committee to manage the Women's Studies Program, which has been in existence for four decades and is a popular minor. The committee recently completed an external review of the program, and are looking to make it grow. "It's a nice complement to any major, and we have to do a better job of showing what you can do with it."
One recent and ongoing project has seen LaFleur bring together her interests -- psychology, women's studies, and statistics -- to create original research.
Working with psychology major Katy Baudendistel SAS'16, LaFleur sought to determine whether women who identify as feminists were less likely to speak negatively about the shape and size of their bodies. Their conclusions were surprising enough that LaFleur and Baudendistel have taken the research to academic conferences and will continue to explore new avenues of inquiry.
Not only are self-identified feminists just as likely to disparage their physical appearance as the general population – the study also found that "women who endorsed radical feminist perspective were actually more likely to engage in fat talk."
In addition to finding little difference in fat talk between feminists and non-feminists, LaFleur and Baudendistal discovered that black women were significantly less likely to engage in negative body talk, or compare their body negatively to others, than white and Hispanic women.
While LaFleur and Baudendistel are looking to expand the parameters of their study and publish their results, the research has also helped LaFleur in the classroom. "It has energized me and the students," LaFleur said.