Faculty Spotlight: Ann B. Loper

October 30, 2013

For this month’s Faculty Spotlight, an Iris initiative aimed at acknowledging distinguished female faculty and staff of the University, Iris magazine wishes to recognize Ann B. Loper, Professor of Clinical Psychology within the Curry School of Education’s PhD program.

Professor Ann B. Loper, who received her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, is a prime example of an intelligent and passionate educator at work. From a Clinical Psychologist at a Children’s Psychiatric Center to Director of Curry Programs in Clinical and School Psychology, her commitment is evident and inspiring.

Previously, Professor Loper collaborated with the regional Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, the Virginia Department of Corrections and the re-entry regional jail program, all for improving a parenting program designed to aid incarcerated parents in making healthy connections with their children during and after incarceration.

When asked how her research interest in the female incarcerated population came about, it was simple. As a trained clinical psychologist, the question “why it is that women tend to have internalizing disorders like anxiety and depression and men tend to have externalizing behavior ignited a spark within me.” This curiosity led Professor Loper to study the exception by looking at women who exhibited more of the externalizing behaviors, which was thought be found among women within the criminal justice system.

Professor Loper quickly found that not to be the case; the incarcerated women expressed a great deal of anxiety and depression, more so than the women who were not incarcerated.  However, it was not until Professor Loper went to the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women that she became “hooked” on this issue and wanted to pursue it.

By invitation of the self-run inmate group MILK (Mothers Inside Loving Kids), her connection with the women there changed her view on what parenting meant while being incarcerated. During their one-hour sessions, she helped the female inmates explore ways they could best support and foster a healthy relationship with their children. “When I got there I was just blown away by the kind of courage and commitment the women, many of whom were sentenced to life, had to their children,” she expressed when first visiting with the group.

It is easy for female inmates to be misrepresented and misinterpreted because their voices are often hushed. “They don’t tend to be these svelte, athletic babes, its not what they look like at all,” Professor Loper expressed candidly. These women are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and girlfriends, but that is lost and forgotten once they enter the system. The importance and relevance of Professor Loper’s work is twofold, for people both inside and outside of the system.

Currently, Professor Loper’s research looks at how incarceration affects the whole family context with regard to the children of the incarcerated parent, the immediate caregiver of the child, the spouse of the inmate, and the inmate experience. Her work also explores the potential for video visitation, in which an imprisoned parent ‘visits’ with children using computer technology.  This has initiated an important conversation of how much we value the parent-child relationship and on what terms it will be upheld.

With Professor Loper’s continual research in the clinical field of the incarcerated population, both the University and Charlottesville community have come to understand the longstanding effects that a strict institutionalized environment has on individuals. With this research, great programs have been established in order to alleviate some of the effects and better prepare the parent with the tools needed to build a healthy relationship with their child.

For more information about Professor Loper’s research, please follow the link to her lab page, The Prisoners and their Families Project.

Image Credit: http://curry.virginia.edu/academics/directory/ann-b.-loper

By: Breeonna Reed

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