Joye Swan: A Sherlock Holmes of Human Behavior

Chair of Psychology, Joye SwanAsked to characterize the work of a psychology professor and researcher into human sexuality, Dr. Joye Swan reaches outside the academic world to identify the job that correlates most closely with how she spends her professional life.

“I see being a psychologist as more akin to being a detective than anything else,” she says. “I’ve always been a curious person and a questioner. Psychological research should be about a search for ‘the truth’ rather than an attempt to confirm one’s hypotheses.”

As department chair, professor of psychology and director of Woodbury’s Special Academic Programs, Dr. Swan has special expertise in the study of sexual risk-taking, intimate relationships and political influence.
Her most recent book, Bisexuality: Theories, Research, and Recommendations for the Invisible Sexuality (Springer, 2018), caps four years of research and provides a window into the way she relates to students. Her co-editor, Shani Habibi, Ph.D., is a former student of Dr. Swan’s who now teaches at Mt. St. Mary’s University. It’s a collaboration of which she’s especially proud. “I think our work truly demonstrates how deep and personal the relationships forged at Woodbury are,” she says.

Dr. Swan’s other recent research has explored perceptions of bisexuality (published in the “Psychology of Sexualities Review”) and sexual versus emotional exclusivity and the implications for sexual health risk (Journal of Sex Research). She also received a 2016 summer academy fellowship from the International Society of Political Psychology. As a topper, Dr. Swan writes the monthly “Up Close and Personal” column in “Psychology Today.”

With a special interest in sexual stigma and marginalized groups, Dr. Swan relishes taking on big-picture topics. “I’m still trying to answer the question of why human attitudes toward sexuality are what they are,” she says. “That is, why are there so many opinions about sex and all its manifestations as opposed to, say, which vegetables someone likes or doesn’t like?”

In the classroom, Dr. Swan helps students see “the value of psychology in its application. Psychology isn’t abstract — it surrounds us every day.” Before Woodbury, she taught at the Claremont Colleges and she earned her doctorate at Claremont Graduate University. “When I came to Woodbury, I vowed to not change my curriculum or my expectations of students. Instead, I made it my responsibility to teach in such a way that I could raise my students up to the level of those expectations. You won’t see an emphasis on rote memorization or multiple choice exams in my classes,” she says. “I want my students to be able to apply what they learn and engage their knowledge with the world around them.”

Sometimes that means pushing back in order to help students develop and strengthen their arguments.

“As many of my students can attest, I like to play the devil’s advocate in my classes, arguing against whatever it is my students argue for,” she explains. “The ability to not just have an opinion but to be able to backup that opinion is what sets a Woodbury graduate apart.”

Want more? Listen to an interview with Dr. Swan on WU Radio
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