College of Education

Liberation Lab

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Helen A. Neville

I am a professor of Educational Psychology and African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ( I am a past president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race (APA Division 45). Historically, my research has primarily focused in two interrelated ares in the study of racial ideologies: (a) color-blind racial ideology or the systematic set of beliefs that serve to deny or minimize institutional racism and (b) racial identity beliefs, particularly the influence of positive, internalized racial attitudes on well-being of people of color. Using multiple research designs (e.g. survey, longitudinal, qualitative, vignette, experimental) and methods (e.g., self-report, interview, census data, archival/documents), I investigate the ways in which people interpret racisl information and the consequences of this interpretation particularly around challenging and/or maintaining the status quo. For example, I explore questions such as: What individual and contextual factors are associated with expressions of color-blind racial beliefs? What factors are related to decreases in color-blind racial beliefs over time? And, in what ways do Black individuals develop a sense of racial pride within color-blind racial contexts?

More recently, I have re-focused my research on racial healing and liberation among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in the United States and globally. As part of my APA Division 45 presidential initiative, I worked with others to explore ways to promote (racial) healing through social justice. Another area of research interest now centers on radical healing and liberation. In this work, I investigate questions of the meaning of radical healing, radical hope, and liberation in people's lives; the association between radical healing and hope on BIPOC's individual and collective well-being; interventions to promote radical healing and hope; and pathways to (psychological) liberation.

Graduate Students


Danyelle Dawson

M.A., Graduate Student, Clinical-Community Psychology Division, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
I AM A fifth-year graduate student in the Liberation Lab. Originally from Fayetteville,NC, I received my undergraduate degree from The University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill and Master's degree from North Carolina Central University before coming to UIUC.
I am broadly interested in both the impacts of an individual and community acts of resistance to racism and marginalization. More specifically, I am interested in the psychosocial and sociocultural factors (e.g. racial identity, collective self-esteem, activism) that promote resiliency and healing in the face of racism-related stress and trauma. My current research explores how efforts by marginalized communities to reassert and celebrate their humanity manifest across our physical and digital worlds, and how Black social media users engage in acts of resistance that foster connection, counternarratives, and healing amidst oppressive contexts.
In my downtime, I moonlight as a self-proclaimed foodie, techie, and book lover.
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Richmond Hayes

M.A., Graduate Student, Counseling Psychology Division, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
I am a second-year graduate student in the Liberation lab. Broadly, my research is focused on facilitating the transformation of unhealthy and oppressive societal structures. More specifically, I am interested in generating new knowledge that provides solutions to individuals, families, and communities of African diaspora who have been affected by the criminal justice system.
Prior to joining the Liberation Lab, I earned my B.S. in Psychology with a minor in the Administration of Justice at Howard University and earned my M.A. in Forensic Psychology from George Washington University. Upon graduation, I worked as a Pathways Intern at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Criminal Division.
Outside of the lab, I enjoy collecting sneakers, engaging in outdoor activities and traveling the world.
Brenda Lee

B. Andi Lee, M.S.

Graduate Student, Clinical-Community Psychology Division, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Hi there! I am a fourth-year graduate student in the Liberation Lab. My research is focused on the intersection of belongingness and racial healing in Global Majority members. I am particularly interested in using racial identity development theory along with grounded theory to understand how racial/ethnic/cultural (REC) belonging emerges and impacts psychosocial well-being. I am leading Project iBelong, which aims to create a measure for REC belonging. Some future directions for research include using the scale (in combination with other methods) to assess REC belonging in populations that may fall "in-between" REC categories, namely, multiracial individuals and transracial adoptees.
Outside of the lab, I enjoy creating art collages, crafting with my hands, dancing, and building community with my lab siblings and co-liberators!

Amir Maghsoodi

B.S., Graduate Student, Educational Psychology (Division of Counseling Psychology), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Born in Iran and raised in the U.S., I have spent much time thinking about racial-ethnic-cultural (REC) identity and sense of belonging. Now, as a doctoral student in Educational Psychology (Division of Counseling Psychology) at Illinois, I have the honor of working with Dr. Nidia Ruedas-Gracia and Dr. Helen Neville to explicate these very topics! Together with fellow lab mate, Andi Lee, we are currently exploring psychosocial processes that take place when one's sense of REC belonging comes under threat. As a scholar activist, I am committed to using my education and training in the service of social justice, especially to support healing from wounds of oppression (e.g., racism-induced trauma) among members of the Global Majority. Thus I am proud and grateful to be a member of Liberation Lab!
Prior to coming to Illinois, I conducted research on life stories and narrative identity with Dr. Dan McAdams at Northwestern University. And before my life in psychology, I was a doctoral candidate in Applied Physics at Northwestern University, studying the physics of soft matter systems. I am blessed to live with my loving partner and our goofy dog, and I enjoy spending time together with my family and friends, listening to and creating music, and reading history books and biographies. Please feel free to connect with me online through my website ( or on twitter (@soori_breeze)

Nimot Ogunfemi 

B.S. Graduate Student, Counseling Psychology Program University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
I am a third-year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program. My research interests include indigenous forms of health and healing, international mental health policy and reform and culturally informed psychoeducation aimed at reaching the global Black population. Because she is passionate about the well-being of people of color, joining a lab of like minded scholars, colleagues and friends working toward similar aims, collectively and individually, was a no-brainer.

Cherese Waight

B.S., Graduate Student, Counseling Psychology University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
I am a first year masters student in the Counseling Psychology Division. I joined the Liberation lab 3 years ago as an undergraduate student. My research interest lie in understanding the psychological affects of racism in the African American Community. I am working with the Policing in a Multiracial Society Project, a program with the Police Training Institute to study the Color-Blind Racial Ideology of the police recruits through a pre and post survey. I am interested in this lab because I have a passion for not only eliminating mass incarceration, but police violence against the African American Community. I am currently working on a project to understand the experiences of Black police officers.
Outside the lab I enjoy painting, writing, and being outdoors.

Briana Williams

B.A., Graduate Student, Educational Psychology (Division of COunseling Psychology), University of Illinois at Urbana-CHampaign
I am a third year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology Program. This is my second year working with Dr. Neville and the Liberation Lab. Broadly speaking, my clinical and research interests are on the social needs and expereinces of LGBTQIA+ people of color. Some of my specific interests include community-based involvement, cultural and indigenous forms of healing, and LGBTQIA+ specific support within historically black college and university (HBCU) contexts. As a graduate of a HBCU, Claflin University, I aspire to utilize my research to inform efforts to improve counseling and supportive contexts for LGBTQIA+ students on HBCU campuses.
Interesting(ish) facts about me: I am a proud Southerner. In my spare time, the little that i do have, i enjoy writing poetry, binge watching Netflix shows, browsing my twitter feed and shopping

Undergraduate Students

Kolin Heck

Sophomore, Psychology

I joined the lab after seeing a symposium during my freshman year. And that my research interests are studying race relations today and the effect of systems of authority on individuals. I hope to be a psychiatrist in the future.

Keena Preston

Junior majoring in Community Health with a concentration in Health Education and Promotion
Generally, I am interested in research that alleviates health and education disparities of marginalized communities. I am working with the lab because of my love for Public Health. I am working on the Malkia wa Nguvu project.