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Hearst scholar destined for unique research

October 10, 2007

Kathleen Rives, a graduate student in social psychology, is one of 23 California State University students to garner a 2007/2008 William R. Hearst/CSU Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement. The award, which carries $3,000 in assistance, was presented to Rives in the Office of the California State University Chancellor in September. Rives is planning to pursue a doctorate and a career in research and counseling after graduation in 2008.

Rives considers herself lucky to be able to form a modest smile and blink her eyes. Born with Moebius syndrome, a rare bilateral facial paralysis, Rives said that many people like her have completely immobile, mask-like faces.

"My observations as a person with facial paralysis have raised questions that I am driven to pursue as a psychological researcher," said Rives. After receiving her bachelor's degree in English and psychology from Louisiana State University, the native of Baton Rouge was a Volunteers of America case manager working with disabled persons in her hometown when hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the state. She spent an extra year with the project working with impoverished people devastated by the storms.

"In my work I began to understand my own disability as socially constructed by society's perceptions, attitudes, stereotypes and power structure," said Rives. "Like other minorities, disability status is defined by a majority group, which applies stigmas, prejudice and institutionalized discrimination." As a result, Rives decided she wanted a career that would allow her to thoroughly examine the psychological and sociological aspects of living with facial paralysis.

Rives maintains that SF State was a natural choice for graduate study in psychology. "Walking through this city, I have never felt more accepted as a person with a disability," she said. "Like SF State, this city truly embraces the diversity of cultures and lifestyles."

Last semester Rives interned with History Professor Paul Longmore at the SF State Institute on Disability. She compiled a bibliographical database of psychological and sociological research on disability, a searchable Web site for scholars and the general public. She is currently the project manager in Psychology Professor David Matsumoto's Cultural and Emotion Research Laboratory (CERL) on a study that is developing a coding system for nonverbal behavior associated with anger.

Matsumoto, who is Rives' primary thesis adviser and a well-known authority on facial expression of emotion and intercultural communication, said that Rives' field of research is unique.

"Only about 1,000 people in the United States share Kathleen's condition and there is little or no literature on the topic," he said. "Any resources we have are purely anecdotal and Kathleen could be among the first to contribute to scholarly literature on the subject." Matsumoto also said that Rives is a valuable member of his research team at SF State. "She's a very intelligent and kind person and one who can always be counted upon to complete the most complicated lab tasks."

Rives, the recipient of several other scholastic honors, said she is grateful for and excited about the CSU honor and assistance. "I can hardly wait to get started on my research," she said.

-- Denize Springer


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Last modified October 10, 2007 by University Communications