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Joseph 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, Ph.D. is Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at Swarthmore College, and Chair of the Black Studies Program. He is also a Senior Research Fellow with the School Participatory Action Research Collaborative—a race and gender equity institute at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a sociologist of education, and his research employs interdisciplinary frameworks to examine two interrelated fields of inquiry: (1) race, boyhood, and education, and (2) identity, culture, and school reform. For the last nine years, his research has been situated within learning environments that serve Black students from neighborhoods with concentrated poverty.

His multi-year projects to date have led to publications with Teachers College RecordHarvard Educational Review, the Psychology of Men and Masculinity, and co-editing a special issue on boys’ education with the Journal of Boyhood Studies. His forthcoming book is entitled, (Re)Imagining Black Boyhood: Portraits of Academic Success during the Middle School Years (Harvard Education Press). He recently co-edited the Routledge Handbook on Boyhood in the United States, with over thirty contributors. In public media, his research has been featured in the Washington PostThe Atlantic, and National Public Radio.­­ In the United States and abroad, he has presented his research at The White House Summit for Children’s Media and Toys, the Ideas Festival of the Aspen Institute, and the International Boys’ School Coalition. In 2019, he was named Co-Editor of the historic journal, Men and Masculinities.

He is the Co-Founder and a Co-Principal Investigator of The Listening Project: Fostering Curiosity and Connection in Middle Schools with Dr. Niobe Way and other faculty at New York University. Funded by the Lyle-Spencer Foundation, this three-year project involves partnerships with 12 middle schools throughout New York City, where students and teachers are trained on a method of “Transformative Interviewing” (Way & Nelson, 2018). The goal is to re-ignite curiosity, listening, and connection among students, teachers, and parents, and in order to counteract dehumanizing stereotypes that often permeate middle school cultures. 

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 taught first-grade in a single-sex class of Black boys.


Department of Educational Studies

Black Studies Program

Gender & Sexuality Studies Program

Mellon Mays Program

Areas of Expertise

Boys' Education

Identity Development

Participatory Action Research

Black Education

Single-Sex Education

Qualitative Research Methods

Urban School Reform

Selected Publications


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

Fergus, E., Wells, L., & Nelson, J.D. (under contract). Routledge Companion for Boyhood in the United States. (Eds.). New York: Routledge.

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:

Nelson, J.D., Maloney, T., & Hodges, Z. (2017). Engaging Diversity and Marginalization through Participatory Action Research: A model for independent school reform. Berkeley Review Education. 6(2). pp. 155-172.

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.

Pupik-Dean, C., & Nelson, J.D. (2015). Sociocultural Learning and the Hope for School Change: Participatory Action Research at a public elementary school. Theory, Research, and Action in Urban Education. 4(1).

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.

Epstein, T., Mayorga, E., & Nelson, J. (2011). Teaching about Race in an Urban History Class: The effects of culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Social Studies Research. 35(1), p. 2-21.

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

Honors and Awards

National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow 2015

Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow 2014