Social Development & Social Issues Lab

The Social Development & Social Issues Lab (the “Social Lab”) explores questions about how children, families, and educators from all backgrounds navigate challenging social topics. A core component of the work in the Social Lab is to build local community-based partnerships with individuals and groups representing multiple and intersecting identities.

Projects in the Social Lab involve research on the development and socialization of intergroup attitudes. For example, how do such strong societal beliefs about gender form? How do environments perpetuate and mitigate social stereotyping and intergroup biases? How do adults approach complex social issues and cultural moments with children? Research in this area has explored caregiver and educator beliefs about addressing sexism, racism, and social issues with children.

Projects and partnerships also focus on educational media and technology that is designed to help students navigate social challenges and social issues. A primary goal of this research is to foster conversations within classrooms and to promote the application of strategies from digital tools to issues that students are facing in their own lives and communities.

Lacey J. Hilliard, PhD

To learn more about Dr. Hilliard and her work, please visit her faculty page.

Current Graduate Students

Profile Picture of Matthew Attaya

Matt Attaya is a second-year doctoral student within Suffolk University’s Applied Developmental Psychology program. Matt graduated from Stonehill College with a BA in Psychology in 2015 while researching alternatives to zero tolerance behavior policies within public schools. Matt worked to develop student-focused alternatives to punitive discipline practices aimed at supporting healthy development in youth. Observing a need for more developmentally-focused practices within public schools, Matt pursued a master's degree in Psychology at Harvard University in 2017. His graduate studies focused on increasing social-emotional learning (SEL) competencies in youth through the development and integration of evidence-based practices into classrooms. Now, a graduate student working alongside Dr. Hilliard in the Social Lab, Matt’s research is focused on creating a more developmentally-focused and culturally-sensitive assessment of SEL competencies in students. Through this assessment project, Matt hopes to encourage “whole-student” learning in schools and promote programs and policies that cater to positive youth development.

Research Interests

Social-emotional development, school-based interventions, education, social justice

Publications and Selected Presentations

Hilliard, L. J., Attaya, M. K., & Millben, M. (in press). Talking to children about race, gender, and social issues: Review and recommendations. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 

Hilliard, L. J., Schroeder, K., Attaya, M. K., Burkhard, B., & Mahl, B (2021). Addressing anti-black racism in schools in 2020: Educator commitment, preparedness, and perceived barriers [Poster presentation]. Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), virtual event.

Attaya, M. K. (2015). Exploring alternatives to zero tolerance policies within inner city high schools [Poster presentation]. Stonehill College, Easton, MA.

Attaya, M. K. (2014). Discriminatory discipline policies: Discrimination & segregation in the 21st century [Poster presentation]. Stonehill College, Easton, MA.

Attaya, M. K. (2014). Reconstructing discipline: Alternative policies for productive schools [Conference session]. Association for Humanist Sociology conference, Cleveland, OH.

Interested in joining the lab?

The Social Lab will be accepting new doctoral students to start in Fall 2022, through the Applied Developmental Psychology PhD program. Potential applicants are encouraged to contact Dr. Hilliard for more information.

Suffolk Undergraduates Interested in Research

Psychology majors who are juniors or seniors and who have successfully completed the course in research methods can apply for an Independent Study Course (PSYCH-510) for 1-4 credits. Students will be involved in the varying tasks from ongoing research in the lab and would be encouraged to pursue their own related research goals. Please contact Dr. Hilliard if you are interested in exploring this possibility

Community Partners

Community groups, schools, organizations, companies, and individuals interested in collaborating are welcome and encouraged to contact Dr. Hilliard.