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Joseph Derrick Nelson

Associate Professor

Program Coordinator, Black Studies

Educational Studies

Black Studies

Gender & Sexuality Studies


  2. Phone: (610) 957-6493
  3. Office Hours:

    Fridays 2:00pm - 4:00pm (virtual)
    Please send email to to request meeting link. 

Joseph Derrick Nelson, PhD is a writer, teacher-educator, and sociologist of race, gender, and education. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at Swarthmore College, where he is also Chair of the Black Studies Program, and Affiliated Faculty with the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. He is also the Faculty Coordinator for the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program at Swarthmore.

He is Research Director of the School Participatory Action Research Collaborative (SPARC) at the University of Pennsylvania—a school partnership organization that facilitates youth-led research to address race and gender equity within K-12 education. He is also Research Affiliate with the Edmund Gordon Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he is also Adjunct Associate Professor in the Sociology and Education Program. He has additionally held Visiting Professorships at Columbia’s Teachers College, and New York University.

His research examines how schools can be what he calls “(re)imaginative” and “liberatory” institutions for Black children and youth, particularly Black boys during childhood and early adolescence. To date, his scholarship has been largely situated within single-gender schools and classrooms for Black and Afro-Latinx boys, and it has explored how race and gender stereotypes influence Black boys’ identities and academic success in U.S. middle schools, specifically high-achieving Black boys from neighborhoods with concentrated poverty.

His research projects have led to publications with Teachers College Record, the Harvard Educational Review, the Psychology of Men and Masculinities, and co-editing (with Michael Reichert, PhD) a special issue on boys’ education with the Journal of Boyhood Studies. His book project under contract with Harvard Education Press is entitled, (Re)Imagining Black Boyhood: Portraits of Academic Success during the Middle School Years. He also co-edited (with Edward Fergus, PhD) the forthcoming volume with Routledge, Boyhood in America: Development, Institutions, and Public Policy.

In public media, his research has been featured in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and on National Public Radio. In the United States and abroad, he has presented on his research at the American Educational Research Association (AERA), The White House Summit for Children’s Media and Toys, the Ideas Festival of the Aspen Institute, the American Educational Studies Association, and the International Boys’ School Coalition.

With funding from the Spencer Foundation and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, he co-founded (with Niobe Way, EdD) The Listening Project: Fostering Curiosity and Connection in Middle Schools—a school-based project that trains middle school students and their teachers on a method of Transformative Interviewing (Way & Nelson, 2016). Its goal is to cultivate a mode of listening and curiosity among middle schoolers that challenge how race and gender stereotypes contribute to negative peer relations, and its further goal is to facilitate building a middle school culture that is rooted in interpersonal connection and community.

In 2021, he became the inaugural Fellow of the Boys’ Club of New York, and Co-Chair (with Christopher Reigeluth, PhD and Andrew Smiler, PhD) of the Task Force on Boys In School with the American Psychological Association. He was also named Editor (with Kristen Barber, PhD and Tristan Bridges, PhD) of the historic journal Men and Masculinities, and he is also the Book Review Editor for the journal, Boyhood Studies.

Within AERA, he has served as Division G Co-Chair (Social Context of Education: Section 2—Differences and Intersectionalities), and he is on the board of national and global organizations, including the Partnership for Male Youth, Equimundo: Masculinities and Social Justice, and Advocates for Youth, all of which engage boys and men in gender justice.

Prior to Swarthmore, he held postdoctoral fellowships with the Ford Foundation, and the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation. In the high-poverty neighborhood where he grew up in Milwaukee, he was a classroom teacher himself, within a co-ed elementary school that had a single-sex intervention for a first-grade cohort of Black and Afro-Latinx boys.

He lives in New York City and Philadelphia.

Selected Publications



Fergus, E., & Nelson, J.D. (forthcoming). Boyhood in America: Development, Institutions, and Public Policy. (Eds.). New York: Routledge.

Nelson, J.D. (under contract). (Re)Imagining Black Boyhood: Portraits of Academic Success during the Middle School Years. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Stahl, G., Nelson, J.D., & Wallace, D. (2017). Masculinity and Aspiration in the Era of Neoliberal Education: International perspectives. (Eds.). New York: Routledge.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles:

Dumas, M., & Nelson, J.D. (2016). (Re)Imagining Black Boyhood: Toward a critical framework for educational research. Harvard Educational Review. 86(1). p. 27-47.

Nelson, J.D. (2016). Relational Teaching with Black Boys: Strategies for learning at a single-sex middle school for boys of color in New York City. Teachers College Record. 118(6). p. 1-30.

Nelson, J.D., Stahl, G., & Wallace, D. (2015). Race, Class, and Gender in Boys' Education: Repositioning Intersectionality theory. Culture, Society, and Masculinities. 7(2). p. 12-32.

Way, N., Cressen, J., Bodian, S., Preston, J., Nelson, J.D., & Hughes, D. (2014). "It might be nice to be a girl... Then you wouldn't have to be emotionless:" Boys' resistance to norms of masculinity during adolescence. Psychology of Men and Masculinity. 15(3). p. 241-252.

Reichert, M., & Nelson, J.D. (2012). Reproduction, Resistance, and Hope: The promise of schooling for boys. Journal of Boyhood Studies. 6(1), p. 4-15.

Reichert, M., Nelson, J.D., Heed, J. Yang, R., & Benson, W. (2012). “A Place To Be Myself:” The critical role of schools in helping boys be boys. Journal of Boyhood Studies. 6(1), p. 54-75.

Nelson, J.D., & Vidale, D. (2012). Helping Boys Take Flight: A peer-mentoring program for boys of color at the Riverdale Country School. Journal of Boyhood Studies. 6(2), p. 219-223.

Book Chapters:

Nelson, J.D. (2018). Teaching Black Boys During Childhood: A counter-narrative and considerations in Michael, A. (Eds). A Guide For White Women Teaching Black Boys. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications (Corwin).

Way, N., & Nelson, J.D., (2018). The Listening Project: Fostering curiosity and connection in middle schools (Chapter 11) in Way, N., Ali, A., Gilligan, C., Noguera, P. (Eds.). The Crisis of Connection: Causes, consequences, and solutions. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Reichert, M., & Nelson, J.D. (2018). I Want To Learn From You: Relational strategies to engage boys in school (Chapter 14) in Way, N., Ali, A., Gilligan, C., Noguera, P. (Eds.). The Crisis of Connection: Causes, consequences, and solutions. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Nelson, J.D. (2017). “I Want To Be A Soccer Player Or A Mathematician:” Fifth-grade boys of color aspirations at a "neoliberal" single-sex school in Stahl, G., Nelson, J.D., & Wallace, D. (Eds.) Masculinity and Aspiration in the Era of Neoliberal Education: International perspectives. New York: Routledge.

Fergus, E., w/ Nelson, J. (2014). Assumptions and Strategies: A model for "saving" boys of color. In Fergus, E., Noguera, P., & Martin, M. Schooling for Resilience: Improving the life trajectories of Black and Latino boys. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.


EDUC 023: Adolescence

EDUC 061: Gender and Education

EDUC 062: Sociology of Education

EDUC 033: Black Education

EDUC 031: Race, Boyhood, and Education