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Shari Miles-Cohen

Birth:
1964

Training Location(s):

PhD in Personality Psychology, Howard University, (1997)

MSc in Psychology, Howard University, (1991)

BA, University of Colorado at Boulder, (1986)



Primary Affiliation(s):

Senior Director, Women's Programs Office, American Psychological Association, (2007-present)

Executive Director, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, (2002-2006)



Media Links:
Professional Website

Dr. Shari Miles-Cohen at the APA Women's Programs Office

Interview

Psychology's Feminist Voices Oral History Transcript

Videos

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: International Concerns

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Advice to Feminist Psychologists


Biography:

 

Career Focus: Public policy; women's health; poverty; race and diversity; mentoring.


 

As she remembers it, Shari Miles-Cohen's feminism began at the young age of five or six.  Her aunt had passed away from pancreatic cancer and she and her sisters were not allowed to attend the funeral because they "were not emotionally equipped enough to handle it" - even though her younger brother was allowed to attend.  Miles acknowledges: "That is probably when I became a feminist.  It's pretty early, and not consciously, but I think that experience has never left me.  I still remember how excluded and powerless I felt."

 

As a university student and now as a professional, Miles-Cohen has brought a feminist lens to everything she has encountered and studied, be it her community-based work  on women's health and poverty, or her policy work as the Director of the Women's Programs Office of the American Psychological Association.  Miles-Cohen was actually a pre-med student in college until she took an elective course on rape crisis counselling.  While she wasn't sure she wanted to be a rape crisis center counsellor, this course was nonetheless a turning point for her.  She no longer wanted to be a medical doctor. 

 

As a student Miles was a socialist-Marxist who was devoted to Angela Davis and terrified her parents with her outrageous hairstyles.  While she was studying Clinical Psychology at Howard University, it quickly became apparent that clinical work was not where her heart was.  However, Howard was an important environment for her, as it was the first time she had worked with Black professors and shared a classroom with Black students.  She feels her life changed during a summer job at the Library of Congress when a "book literally fell off the shelf and opened up to an article that Kenneth Clark [renowned African-American psychologist] had written... admonishing psychologists for not being engaged in social changes and social justice." This is what turned Miles-Cohen on to policy. 

 

Inspired to learn more about policy, Miles-Cohen applied for a fellowship working with "a very progressive member of the House of Representatives".  She describes her time in Washington, D.C. as amazing.  At the time she was conducting research on racial and feminist identify development in Black women, so when she discovered that her fellowship involved introducing a multi-ethnic option on the census survey, she was pleased with the overlap.    

 

During her career, Miles has tried teaching, but has found that she does not enjoy it as much as other aspects of her work, finding it a challenge to teach  students who are excessively privileged and entitled. However, she does enjoy being a mentor to young women wherever and whenever she can.  She works with young inner-city girls providing them with cultural experiences, as well as inspiring them to consider professions in the sciences.        

 

In speaking about the intersections of her identity, Miles feels that it is, in some ways, easier to be a Black feminist in a white institution than in a historically Black university: "You think it would have been much easier...at a Black women's school it would have been very easy to be a Black woman feminist, but there aren't a lot of spaces where you get to be a Black woman feminist without having to chose which one is more important, like to be fully integrated person...In a White institution you are just a multiply oppressed person so it's not really about choosing, it's about trying to negotiate how to keep yourself safe.  The shield is already up, it's not that it's safer; it's that I'm always prepared for the fight."

 

Indeed, as a graduate student she had a reputation as "that feminist girl".  She remembers being asked by the chair of the department to switch her jeans for a skirt.  While she understood that her chair, a Black man, wanted to challenge racist ideas about Black students, she also recognized that there was sexism in his comments that he could not recognize.  She also felt discriminated against by her department because her career goals encompassed policy, and not scholarship.

 

Although Miles-Cohen's work in policy is domestically-focused, it has taken her into the international context as well.  In 1994 she attended the United Nations Women's Conference.  In describing this experience Miles-Cohen notes: "It was a space where I felt incredibly ignorant and very uncomfortable with that lack of knowledge.  It was also painful to acknowledge this American privilege that I had never acknowledged before I went overseas."

 

Despite the difficulties in her experience she was able to learn a significant amount, particularly about the commonalities of women's experiences globally.  She remains involved with the United Nations as a consultant for the National Council for Research on Women. 

 

On top of her busy professional schedule, Miles also has a young son. It has been difficult managing her professional and domestic commitments, and she often finds herself fatigued.  Recently she was negotiating some work with the Obama administration, but in the end she thought, "I love Barack Obama, but I've waited my entire life for this son."  

 

In offering advice to the younger generation of feminist psychologist, Miles eloquently and simply stated: "I guess I'd say find your voice and hold onto it.  I think in many ways, as a feminist, and certainly as an African American feminist, getting up every morning and walking out the door is a revolutionary act... just find your voice and be true to it." Indeed, Miles has not been silent.  She has used her voice and influence to make psychology a tool of social change for girls and women at home and abroad.

 

by Jenna MacKay (2010)
To cite this article, see Credits


Selected Works:

 

Miles-Cohen, S.E. & Signore, C. (Eds.). (2016). Eliminating inequities for women with disabilities: An agenda for health and wellness. Washington, DC: APA Press.

 

Chrisler, J.C., de las Fuentes, C., Durvasula, R.S., Esnil, E.S., McHugh, M.S., Miles-Cohen, S.E., Williams, J.L., & Wisdom, J.P. (2013). The American Psychological Association’s Committee on Women in Psychology: Forty years of contributions to the transformation of psychology. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37, 444-454.

 

Miles-Cohen, S.E., Twose, G.T., Houston, S., & Keita, G.P. (2010). Beyond mentoring: Opening doors and systems. In Austria, A.M.., Denmark, F.L., Rayburn, C.A., & Reuder, M. (Eds.), A handbook for women mentors: Transcending barriers of stereotype, race, and ethnicity. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

 

Thomas, V. & Miles, S. E. (1995). Psychology of Black women: Past, present, future. In H. Landrine (Ed.), Bringing cultural diversity to feminist psychology: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 303-330). Washington, DC: APA.


Video(s):

Interview with Shari Miles-Cohen: International Concerns

Interview conducted on March 14, 2009 by Axelle Karera and Alexandra Rutherford in Newport, Rhode Island. U.S.A.

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Interview with Shari Miles-Cohen: Advice to Feminist Psychologists

Interview conducted on March 14, 2009 by Axelle Karera and Alexandra Rutherford in Newport, Rhode Island. U.S.A.

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