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Office Hours with Drew University’s Jill Cermele

Self determination, in theory and practice

June 2021 – This summer, we’re spending time in office hours with some of Drew University’s amazing faculty to learn about what interests and inspires them and their research.

Today, we’re talking with Jill Cermele, Professor and Chair of Psychology.

What about your field interests you most?

One of my favorite concepts is self determination.

Why does it fascinate you?

It’s a struggle for so many people to believe they are entitled to that kind of agency for themselves—essentially to be able to say “no”—and for some people to believe others have a right to it—essentially, that other people have the right to say “no” to them.

Summarize the topic for us.

Various fields—political science, philosophy, psychology—use this term, but as we apply it to psychology, self-determination theory suggests that autonomy and agency are important for a person’s well-being. In my work on self defense, I talk about self determination in the context of a person’s right and agency to set and maintain physical and psychological boundaries, even when other people don’t like those boundaries.

In other words…

We are entitled to act in our own interest to keep ourselves safe and to maintain our physical and psychological integrity, even when someone else doesn’t like it.

How do you bring the topic into the Drew classroom?

I talk about this subject in my seminar on Gender Violence and Women’s Resistance, and in my Stress and Coping course, where we talk about both the theory and experience of self determination, and learn and practice the skills around it.

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