Cheryl Tawede Grills Named President’s Professor

President Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D., has appointed Cheryl Grills, professor of psychology and director of the Psychology Applied Research Center (PARC) at Loyola Marymount University, as President’s Professor in the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts.

Only six professors at LMU currently hold this title, which is the highest honor for faculty at the university. The five other President’s Professors are: Antonia Darder, School of Education; Beth Henley, College of Communication and Fine Arts; Martha McCarthy, School of Education; Eric Strauss, Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering; and David Stewart, College of Business Administration.

“Dr. Grills not only manifests what are often called ‘best practices’ in community engaged teaching, research, and community partnerships – she has helped to create best practices,” says Robbin D. Crabtree, dean of LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts. “Her expertise and impact have crossed disciplines, and have reached far beyond the academy; influencing the priorities of funding agencies, the methodologies for community and mental health care delivery and assessment, as well as strategies employed by nonprofit organizations for community organizing.”

The title of President’s Professor is bestowed upon LMU’s most distinguished faculty who already hold the rank of tenured full professor and are acknowledged leaders in their respective fields, having achieved national and international recognition of their work. President’s Professors are nominated by an extensive team of colleagues for exhibiting outstanding scholarly work and research productivity; significantly impacting student learning and outcomes; and demonstrating exceptional leadership and service to the university community, their professions, and beyond.

Grills is a clinical psychologist with a current emphasis in community psychology who began her tenure-track position at LMU in 1987. She has dedicated her career to supporting the needs of low-income communities of color using research and community-centered models of prevention and treatment for mental and physical health. Since its founding in 2009, PARC has collaborated with many community-based organizations on grant-funded projects to facilitate social change and community empowerment through action-oriented research. A national past president of the Association of Black Psychologists, Grills is also the founder of Imoyase Community Support Services, a 30-year nonprofit organization providing action research, program evaluation, and strategic technical assistance to social justice and social service community-based organizations.

Wade W. Nobles, professor emeritus of Black Psychology and African Studies at San Francisco State University and co-founder of the Association of Black Psychologists highlighted the deep convictions that anchor Grills: “She has an unwavering and fearless commitment to the notion of Black lives and Black culture, worldview, and mental health in the face of racial stress and trauma.”

In addition to leading large interdisciplinary research studies, Grills is also experienced at working within systems and public policy to address issues of disproportionality and structural racism in the child welfare system, justice system, and juvenile justice system. She currently serves as commissioner and vice-chair of the Los Angeles County Sybil Brand Commission which is working to reform practices within L.A. County jails. She was co-executive director of the County’s Blue-Ribbon Commission on Child Protection which led to important changes in the L.A. County child welfare system. Grills also contributed to the founding of the Community Coalition of Los Angeles, a now 30-year-old organization dedicated to racial and economic justice at the school board, city, county, state, and federal levels.

“I am inspired by Professor Grills’ commitment to the underserved and disenfranchised, her expertise and keen insights on structural and historical inequities, and her cogent social analysis,” says President Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D. “She powerfully illustrates what it means to be passionate for a faith that does justice, to be persons for and with others, and to have moral integrity that guides professional choices and leads to a life of meaning and purpose. Among all these accomplishments, she is also a gifted teacher and mentor.”

Grills’ research interests, publications, projects, and awards span many disciplines including African psychology, prevention and treatment in mental health with African Americans, community mental health, public health, and applied research with community-based organizations engaged in organizing around social justice issues such as education, health, land use, and criminal justice reform. She is the author of more than 50 peer-reviewed, published articles and chapters. Grills has also been the principal investigator on numerous grant-funded projects, the most recent being a national COVID-19 needs assessment examining the pandemic’s impact on communities of color.

Thomas Parham, president of California State University, Dominguez Hills, praised the magnitude of Grills’ accomplishments: “To say Dr. Grills is one of the brightest stars in academia seems to underestimate the work she has already produced and the potential she represents.”

Colleagues in the Psychology Department describe Grills as a transformative teacher who has mentored generations of students in the scholar-activist model. She empowers her students with methodological tools to confront unjust social structures and to employ community-based approaches to social justice. Grills also opens doors to high-impact experiences and opportunities for whole-person development. She founded the Ghana Study Abroad program, Kente Graduation, and the Psychology Early Awareness program, a living-learning community and was one of the founding developers of The Learning Community (a first-year retention program for African American undergraduates).

The breadth and depth of Grills’ work has been recognized nationally and locally. Among the many awards, she has received: the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI-LA Urban) Honors for Excellence in Turning Research into Action; the Charlotta Bass Award; the National Association of Black Psychologists Service Award; the National Association of Black Psychologists Distinguished Psychologist Award; and the U.S. President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation President’s Volunteer Service Award. She also received the 2017-18 BCLA Daum Professorship Award, the college’s top award.

Grills earned her Ph.D. from UCLA and her bachelor’s degree from Yale University.