From Miami to Claremont, Pomona professor Eric Hurley’s lifelong dedication to improving Black education

Africana Studies and Psychological Science professor Eric Hurley’s research looks into academic outcomes for youth students of color (Courtesy: Pomona College)

Growing up in Miami, Dr. Eric A. Hurley recalls driving through the affluent neighborhoods as a typical Saturday activity for his family.

“I remember my mom and stepdad used to drive us around the city to look at the big beautiful houses,” he said. “She didn’t say it at the time but I suppose my mom’s idea was, ‘You need to see that the world is bigger than what we can manage.’”

Hurley is a professor of Africana Studies and Psychological Science at Pomona College who researches implications for the social and educational outlook of African American and other minority children. His research integrates culture and education in order to understand the relationship between African American children and schooling, an idea prompted by his upbringing.

Hurley was raised by a family of educators in a low-income neighborhood. Determined to alleviate his economic status, he initially pursued a bachelor’s degree in Advertising at the University of Florida. 

Hurley settled on advertising as he believed the marketing field would guarantee him secure employment while allowing for him to be creative and work with people. Most importantly, he wanted a career that gave him the ability to influence others. 

However, any prospects of advancing his advertising career came to an abrupt halt during an internship with Reebok in his senior year of college. In the midst of a hot Boston summer day, a moment of clarity struck him — “At some point I looked up and was like ‘wait a minute, I think I just sell shoes!’”

As luck would have it, a window suggesting a pathway into academia opened for Hurley at the same time as he was closing the door leading him into advertising.

After Hurley enrolled in a research methods class, his professor noticed his natural inclination towards the subject and encouraged him to pursue psychology. But it wasn’t until after seeing his friend’s senior thesis on bystander criticism and racism did Hurley pick up a minor in psychology.

“I didn’t actually know about the academic pathway – I just didn’t have the cultural capital for that,” Hurley said.

While at the University of Florida, Hurley also witnessed the Black Student Union protest the university’s homecoming activities’ lack of inclusion towards their Black student population. This led Hurley to seek a deeper connection towards Black issues and consequently, Black scholars. Equipped with a newfound desire to study the mind, Hurley enrolled in Howard University’s graduate school, the only historically Black college/university (HBCU) with a graduate program in psychology.

After completing his doctorate at Howard, Hurley spent three years working at a research nonprofit before ultimately deciding to return to higher education as he was dissatisfied with the direction of his research.

From 2002 to 2005, Hurley taught at Smith College as an Assistant Professor of Psychology and found that liberal arts colleges like Smith strongly appealed to him for its small size and abundant resources.

Once his visiting position at Smith concluded, Hurley picked up another job nearby at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst where his determination to publish research was sparked.

The two years spent researching and publishing at UMass Amherst allowed Hurley to compile a more competitive resumé, and by 2007, Hurley began to work at Pomona College.

The resources and attractive physical space at Pomona has kept Hurley in Claremont for over 15 years, where he continues to pursue researDaisych on the intersection of structured cultural values and education.

Under the mentorship of his advisor A. Wade Boykin, a cultural psychologist at Howard University, Hurley has spent the last two decades chipping away at his “intellectual crisis”, which he says is “the one thing in the world you cannot let exist as it is.” For him, that “intellectual crisis” is the inequalities facing African American schoolchildren.

Understandably, Hurley’s passion for “intellectual crisis” stems from his own environmental and social observations he made growing up in South Miami. While Hurley credits “cultural capital” to his going to college, he noticed that there are other smart kids in Miami who don’t go to college. Through his research, Hurley attempts to find alternative reasons for why there is a gap in schooling amongst African American children in order to depict more “authentic pictures of Black people.”

Outside of the classroom, Hurley dedicates most of his time to being a father and husband. Whether it’s coaching his two daughters in soccer or baking a cake for his wife’s birthday, Hurley maintains a close relationship with his family at home and enjoys participating in the occasional marathon.

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