Jocelyn Smith
Dr. Jocelyn R. Smith, PhD, MS, LGMFT
For Family Science alumna Dr. Jocelyn R. Smith, currently a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan, both professional and personal paths have led to her research on the often-overlooked experiences of black men.
Dr. Smith, who received an MS in Marriage and Family Therapy and PhD in Family Science from the UMD School of Public Health, was initially drawn to Maryland’s close proximity to Washington, D.C. – a national hub for both research and advocacy.
“The UMD program was really attractive to me – I knew it would equip me to intervene directly in the lives of families,” said Dr. Smith. “The dual-degree program seemed like the best of both worlds. I would gain the skill set to build relationships and effect change in real time, as well as a skill set to effect policy.”
As a psychology major at Hampton University in Virginia, Dr. Smith had always been interested in how family relationships function, and the role that fathers – particularly black fathers – play in the lives of their children.
But it was during a project with Dr. Kevin Roy, a leading expert on fatherhood and social policy, as part of her doctoral program that Dr. Smith discovered her raison d'être in the field of public health. Dr. Roy was looking at the experiences of young black and Latino men near the College Park campus and in East Baltimore. During interviews with the men about their neighborhoods and childhood experiences, an unexpected theme emerged.
“The young men often spoke about their experiences of loss as a result of violence,” Dr. Smith said. “We weren’t looking for that; we didn’t probe for that.”
The narratives of those young Baltimore men stayed with Dr. Smith as she began work on her dissertation in Family Science at Maryland.
“I just couldn’t shake [those interviews] – they stood out as very important,” she said. “We were asking about their neighborhoods and they talked about the loss of their peers. These were young people who were having to experience advanced developmental transitions at a time when they were supposed to be developing their own sense of identity and future.”
Dr. Smith began to focus her research on trauma, violence, and loss among black boys and men.
"Specifically, my research examines the experience of homicide survivorship, and works to understand how losing friends or family members to violence shapes the mental, behavioral, and relational health of Black males across the life course," said Dr. Smith, who is also a survivor of homicide. 
Dr. Smith believes that all too often, the experiences of black men are omitted in research. She’s on a mission to change that: Her master’s thesis explored the ethnic identity and relationship satisfaction of African-American couples, and her dissertation looked at peer homicide and traumatic loss among low-income, young black men.
Now at the halfway point in her postdoctoral fellowship at Michigan, Dr. Smith’s goal is to apply for tenure track faculty positions that value interdisciplinary work and the influence of context on experience. She dreams of developing a center to address loss and healing for homicide survivors in an urban context – one that allows her to leverage the intersection of research, practice and policy training she gained at Maryland.
Published Dec. 1, 2014