Graham, Sandra (Haley) 1945-
In 1982 Sandra Haley Graham completed her doctorate in educational psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Before coming to Los Angeles, Graham graduated from Barnard College (B.A., 1969) and from Columbia University (M.A., 1970). Graham then taught junior high school in Newton, Massachusetts, for three years. Curious about the behavior and academic orientation of some of her junior high school students, she began to consider the unique socio-cultural experiences and needs of minority children, particularly African American boys.
At UCLA Graham worked with social psychologist Bernard Weiner on attribution theory. Graham's early research used attribution theory as a framework to understand individual, contextual, and interpersonal factors influencing children's achievement motivation. Her research examined how others consciously and unconsciously may send messages to students that may undermine their own sense of self. Graham recalled having such an experience as a college freshman during final exams week. She got a note from the professor urging her to attend an extra help session, and immediately Graham began to doubt herself, wondering why the professor had singled her out for help. She realized at that point that unsolicited offers of help can undermine a person's self-concept by communicating a message of perceived low ability. In Communicating Low Ability in the Classroom: Bad Things Good Teachers Sometimes Do (1990), Graham describes how praise and well-intentioned yet unsolicited assistance communicates perceptions of low ability that may reduce children's beliefs in their own efficacy and undermine achievement motivation.
Graham was a pioneer in examining the relationship between the social context and behaviors and how they are linked to children's academic engagement. Research has consistently supported that even the most capable and supported students likely will not achieve their potential if they are not engaged in their academic lessons. Graham noticed that during her work in classrooms that many students who were not engaged academically had behavior problems and were identified as aggressive by their peers and teachers. More troubling, she noticed that these students' predicaments were only negatively amplified by the time spent in principals' offices. Continuing her focus on children's attributions, Graham incorporated into her repertoire an examination of the determinants of aggression among minority male youth. Consistent with her hypothesis, Graham found a link between attribution, affect and action in that aggressive males were more likely than non-aggressive males to assume that a peer's negative behaviors were intentional, become angered, and respond with aggression of their own.
Graham recognized that in order to address the needs of an increasingly diverse population, diversity must be represented and valued in the literature. This lack of diversity was the impetus for her article “Most of the Subjects Were White and Middle Class: Trends in Published Research on African Americans in Selected APA Journals” (1992). This work highlighted the lack of ethnic representation in research of the time and was a call for more representation in research.
Graham never lost sight of her ultimate goals for her research. Her next tasks involved bridging theory and practice by designing and conducting a hostile-attribution retraining program in collaboration with her former student Cynthia Hudley. This line of intervention work included Best Foot Forward, a 32-lesson curriculum focused on enhancing social and academic motivational skills. The social skills component was comprised of two sections, impression management and attributions of intent. The academic motivation component was divided into sections covering intermediate risk taking, goal setting, task focus, and failure attributions. This curriculum has had an overall positive impact on aggressive participants: There were increased adaptive responses to conflict and decreased hostile attributions. Academically, participants made fewer external attributions for failure and evinced more adaptive goal setting. Additionally, teacher ratings of cooperation/motivation and persistence increased significantly for intervention participants. This work highlights the value of theory-guided, multi-method, student-focused research in education.
Graham's research has included topics ranging from students' achievement values, affirmative action, peer victimization and harassment, to the cognitive competence of juvenile offenders. Her 2006 work with Janna Juvonen focused on a longitudinal investigation of the importance of school and classroom ethnic compositions for students' social-psychological adjustment and peer relationships both within middle and high school as well as across the school transition. The body of research from this data identifies requirements for optimal learning and socialization for all students, ethnic minority and non-minority alike. Findings support that ethnic diversity in classrooms and schools reduces students' feelings of victimization and vulnerability as a result of a balance of power among ethnic groups. Contrary to what one might expect, in non-diverse classrooms, victimized students who are members of the ethnic group that is the numerical majority are particularly vulnerable for maladaptive and destructive self-appraisals.
Graham received an Independent Scientist Award funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and an Early Contribution Award from Division 15 (Educational Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. She is a former Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California. As of 2008, Graham was a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Graham, S. (1992). Most of the subjects were white and middle class: Trends in reported research on African-Americans in selected APA journals, 1970–1989. American Psychologist, 47, 629–639.
Graham, S. (1994). Motivation in African Americans. Review of Educational Research, 64, 55–117.
Graham, S., & Juvonen, J. (1998). Self-blame and peer victimization in middle school: An attributional analysis. Developmental Psychology, 34, 587–599.
Graham, S., & Lowery, B. (2004). Priming unconscious racial stereotypes about adolescent offenders. Law and Human Behavior, 28, 483–504.
Juvonen, J., Nishina, A., & Graham, S. (2006). Ethnic diversity and perceptions of safety in urban middle schools. Psychological Science, 17, 393–400.
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