Kevin Nadal breaks barriers, named Distinguished Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Kevin Nadal is the first Asian American faculty member at John Jay College to be named Distinguished Professor. | AJPress photo by Momar G. Visaya

JOHN Jay College of Criminal Justice Professor Kevin Nadal is known in the Filipino American community as an educator, psychology expert, community organizer, historian, and supporter of the arts, among many other things.

The City University of New York recently named Dr. Nadal to the title of Distinguished Professor in recognition of his exceptional contributions to scholarship and the public discourse, becoming the first Asian American faculty member at John Jay College to hold the title.

“It means so much to me and it feels really overwhelming just because I felt the response. It feels way bigger than me. It feels way bigger than anything I have accomplished,” Dr. Nadal told the Asian Journal.

That the announcement happened on Larry Itliong Day was not lost on him.

“It meant that you know, all of the Filipinos who have been in this country many of them have experienced violence and racism, discrimination, and, you know, some even brutalized and killed. That there was this moment of joy and victory, and it feels way bigger than me and I’m just so happy that it happened during Filipino American History Month,” he added.

Nadal started at CUNY in 2004 at LaGuardia Community College where he was an instructor teaching education classes. Two years later, he started as an adjunct at John Jay College, and then he became a full-time faculty member in 2008 in the psychology department.

He is now the tenth current Distinguished Professor at John Jay, the second person of color and the youngest to be afforded the distinction.

“We are so proud of Kevin Nadal for being John Jay’s first Asian American Distinguished Professor, but more importantly, for giving voice to underrepresented lived experiences and helping build a stronger foundation for the academic success of our students and for all current and future BIPOC professors,” said John Jay College President Karol V. Mason.

Dr. Nadal, who is also a professor with the CUNY Graduate Center, has compiled a robust body of scholarship focused, in part, on microaggressions, with additional scholarship centered on Filipino and Asian Americans and LGBTQ people of color.

“As a queer Filipino American child of immigrants, I would have never imagined that something like this would be a possibility for someone like me,” said Nadal. “It feels serendipitous that it happened during Filipino American History Month. The earliest Filipino migrants faced violent discrimination and worked in fields and canneries – in horrible conditions and for mere pennies a day. This promotion is for them and for all my ancestors who came before me. I would not be here without them.”

Most of CUNY’s distinguished professors are older and over 60 years old, most are white, and many are men.

“You know, it’s an elite group. These are folks who are at the top of their field have sometimes up to, you know, dozens of books, hundreds of publications, and there’s a reason why that title is distinguished because they really have done significant amounts of work to get to where they are,” Nadal shared.

“I’m very proud of being able to say I deserve to be here because I have worked hard. I’ve written up to 12 books now and hundreds of articles and have done a lot of things to get me here,” he added. “But I also know that I’m a lucky one, that there are still so many other people who are brilliant and talented but maybe just haven’t had those opportunities yet, and I might be the first Filipino Distinguished Professor at CUNY but I certainly hope I’m not the last.”

Since the publication of one of his first articles on microaggressions, the literature on the issue has grown to thousands of articles and tens of thousands of media articles.

Microaggressions are the subtle ways that biases and prejudices are communicated in interactions. Through his work, Nadal is shedding light on such actions and giving voice to communities that are otherwise invisible in the academic literature, while examining the construct through a rigorous scientific lens.

“When people, Asian people in general, Filipino people specifically, when we navigate the streets, it’s no longer that we have to think about just microaggressions and smaller forms of discrimination, but we also have to think about overt violence and being attacked or experiencing hate crimes,” he shared. “And that’s a lot you know, and I think it’s something that we all managed to do without thinking about it but what is the cost of that of our psyches? To have to always be vigilant and hyper-aware that there might potentially be a hate crime around the corner.”

Dr. Nadal, who received his Ph.D. just 13 years ago in 2008, has published nine books, with three more in press/in progress and more than 100 articles and chapters. His authored books include Filipino American Psychology: A Handbook of Theory, Research and Clinical Practice (John Wiley & Sons, 2011), Microaggressions and Traumatic Stress (APA, 2018), and Queering Law and Order: LGBTQ Communities and the Criminal Justice System (Lexington Books, 2020). He has delivered more than 42 keynote and invited lectures to date, and has been awarded more than $240K in research and programming grants since coming to John Jay and CUNY.

“Dr. Nadal’s exceptional scholarship and contributions to the field of Psychology make him an ideal recipient for the title of CUNY Distinguished Professor at CUNY,” said John Jay College Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Yi Li. “We at John Jay College congratulate him on this honor and are looking forward for his continuous contributions in the years to come.”

Nadal mentioned that when he was already a grown adult when he knew he wanted to be a professor and it took a Latina mentor to pique his interest. Dr. Jeanett Castellanos one day pulled him aside after class and asked if he ever thought about going to graduate school.

“And I said, ‘What’s graduate school?’ I didn’t know what that was. We’re Filipino. We do medical school, nursing school. And so that’s where it started,” he shared. “It really took mentorship, it took watching people who I admired to do this and also encouraged me to be a professor myself, that I realized I do enjoy teaching, writing, and research.”

He hopes that more Filipino Americans would consider a career in the academe and pursue graduate work and get their doctorates.

Nadal is a past President of the Asian American Psychological Association, the oldest Asian American mental health organization in the country (and only one of four major national ethnic minority psychological associations), co-founder and an Executive Committee member of the LGBTQ Scholars of Color Network, and an elected Trustee for the Filipino American National Historical Society (2010-present). He also has served as an editor for several journals, including The Journal of Counseling Psychology, Asian American Journal of Psychology, and The Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at [email protected].

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