Psychology superstar to deliver remarks at campus-wide commencement ceremony
As Department of Psychology Professor Derek Iwamoto puts it, “It’s really easy to say laudatory words about M.”
M Pease, a senior psychology major with minors in Asian American Studies and Public Leadership, has been heavily involved in multiple campus organizations including the Help Center, the Department of Resident Life, and the University Senate; has acted as an undergraduate teaching assistant and peer mentor for a handful of classes; and has acquired far too many research, leadership and academic awards to list.
Among their most recent achievements, however, is being one of only two University of Maryland seniors selected to receive the University of Maryland Model Citizenship Award, one of three from BSOS recently selected to receive a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and the single undergraduate student selected to speak at this year’s campus-wide commencement ceremony on Friday, May 20.
“It comes down to two main messages,” Pease said about their remarks. “The first being that through the experiences and hardships and collective care of one another over the course of the pandemic, we as a graduating class have a really exciting capacity to make a difference on the issues that matter in our society and in our world. The second is that we are acutely aware of these values in our society that tie our worth to what we can produce, so as we work to change the world, we also want to be careful not to buy into that part, remembering we are all worthy of rest, love, and joy, not because we work hard, not because we are college graduates, but simply because of our intrinsic worth as human beings.”
Given their intended career path, mental well-being is of significant interest to Pease; particularly the mental well-being of those in the trans+ community, the topic of the first research paper, published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity journal, Pease first-authored.
Working with Iwamoto and Thomas Le, a doctoral candidate in the UMD Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program that Pease will enter into this fall, Pease developed an online, 20-minute national survey of more than 200 18- to 29-year-olds who identify with a gender different from their sex assigned at birth. Conducted during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, from late May to early July 2020, the survey sought to understand the factors that most contribute to negative mental health outcomes among gender-diverse young adults.
In summary, the survey found pandemic stress to be associated with greater psychological distress, and relatedly that during the pandemic, young adults with minority gender identities experienced high rates of psychological distress.
A particularly interesting finding was that transphobic discrimination was associated with greater gender dysphoria—feelings of discordance between identity and sex assigned at birth, which Pease notes is often viewed as a medical diagnosis—and greater emotional dysregulation, which is difficulty regulating emotions in response to stimuli and life events. Greater gender dysphoria and greater emotional dysregulation were both associated with greater psychological distress.
“Looking at it through this lens where there is an etiological link between discrimination and the experience of gender dysphoria speaks to a subtle but really powerful emerging idea in psychology, which is that if our society truly cherished gender diversity in all of its forms and allowed people to live as their authentic selves in meaningful and equitable ways, perhaps there wouldn't be this feeling of discordance; perhaps gender dysphoria isn’t something that would be an experience,” they said. “I think it gives a glimpse into a more expansive idea of what gender and human life can be like in a really inspiring way.”
Not only does Pease hope the results of this paper will create a better future, they also hope it will pay homage to the past: Pease dedicated the paper in memory of Jude Maloney, their close friend who died of suicide in January 2021. A reference to Maloney appears in the paper by way of a citation, Ottenwaelder et al., 2021, highlighting a UMD theater performance by the Kreativity Diversity Troupe that discussed Jude’s experiences with transphobia in health services.
“I would equate M [in psychology] as the Serena Williams or LeBron James in sports; they are super driven, have perseverance and write at a graduate level,” Iwamoto said. “I think they will be the next generational talent, and I am just happy to be a part of that journey.”
Pease, however, doesn’t see themself that way.
“It is never an individual, but rather our community that creates sustainable change,” they said.