Margaret Beale Spencer


Contact Oliver Garland, Research and Administrative Assistant

Margaret Beale Spencer is the Marshall Field IV Professor of Urban Education, and is an alumna of the Committee on Human Development. Before returning to Chicago, she was the endowed Board of Overseers Professor and Director of the Interdisciplinary Studies of Human Development (ISHD) faculty member in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Additionally, she was Director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Health Achievement Neighborhood Growth and Ethnic Studies (CHANGES), and also guided as its inaugural director, the W. E. B. Du Bois Collective Research Institute. Guiding the noted efforts and continuing to frame her scholarship, Spencer's Phenomenological Variant of Ecological Systems Theory (P-VEST) provides an identity-focused cultural ecological perspective. It serves as the foundation for her gender, culture and context acknowledging, developmental race and ethnicity sensitive research emphasis. The conceptual framing addresses resiliency, identity, and competence formation processes for diverse humans—particularly youth—both in the United States and abroad.

In addition to Spencer's ongoing program of research, she frequently collaborates with groups for the purpose of applying the research findings to settings having a stated mission or purpose which addresses youths' emerging capacity for healthy outcomes and constructive coping methods. Given that the basic evaluation and applied research activities representing intervention collaborations occur in challenging contexts, the outcomes have significant implications for understanding not just the "what" of life course human development but the "why" of particular developmental periods and trajectories. Accordingly, the life-course coping knowledge accrued, as a function of basic research as well as collaborative applications of the type noted, promote new lines of basic scholarly inquiry particularly salient for resiliency promotion and policies actually experienced as supportive by intended beneficiaries. Thus, in addition to the ongoing basic research, as a recursive process, the outcomes of application opportunities have implications for Spencer's ongoing theory-building efforts.

Professor Spencer’s current focus is the development of a multi-pronged research and programming agenda designed to foster and unleash resiliency-promoting opportunities in urban communities.   This Urban Resiliency Initiative (URI), is a non-profit consulting and advisory group committed to providing high-quality tools and services designed to enhance and unleash and promote the resiliency of youth and adults living in urban centers. Resiliency speaks to the ability to develop recuperative and restorative behaviors (i.e. coping behaviors) and protective processes to offset trauma, whether individually or contextually derived.  URI’s principal focus is to provide multigenerational support for the four major adult oriented leadership institutions that shape, socialize and develop young people. These essential supports or “pillars” include Parenting, Teaching, Policing, and Multi-level Community Health, or to state more inclusively: Family, Education, Safety, and Universal Wellness.

Guided by principles of identity-informed leadership and purposeful wisdom goals, the URI works to positively impact the character of available adult professional supports. At the same time, it collaborates directly with community and after-school translational learning enhancing activities for affording transformative youth outcomes. The strategy is in contrast to traditional deficit-centered models. Specifically, the URI posits that all humans are vulnerable and risks and supports are unevenly distributed through society evident both historically and contemporaneously. By combining the noted cultural and context linked life course human development perspective with the dual level adult and youth legacy strategy focus, our initiative aims to maximize the potential for positive outcomes across generations and, thus, contribute to a sustainable legacy of human flourishing.

For a copy of Professor Spencer's CV, please Click Here.


Current Research Activities

Milgrom Funded Research  Project (Launched: Nov. 2013, On-going) "Development of a Measure to Assess Teacher Perceptions of Self-Student Differences."
Teachers’ perceptions of difference may have implications for students’ perceptions of themselves. For students, the information garnered about the self as inferred from “the other,” may result in a particular pattern of academic persistence and engagement (or its absence). Thus, the perceptions and inferences of students and teachers potentially have implications for interactions that impact the behaviors, beliefs and attitudes of students and teachers. This teacher focused relational project commenced in November 2013 and was designed to develop a measure for assessing self-student differences (i.e., thus, it is a strategy for determining relational inferred beliefs of teachers about their students). The research implementation steps include teacher survey data collection, teacher interviews, instrument development, and the measure’s administration to an independent cohort of teachers. Next steps include raising funds to conduct a construct validation study.

Shabazz (Charter) School NIH Evaluation Research Project (On-going)
Providing the evaluation project function, the collaboration is a continuing effort with Northwestern University colleague, Professor Carol Lee. The research and assessment process evaluates the literacy interventions implemented as part of the curriculum innovation at the Betty Shabazz International Charter School in Chicago. Tasks include periodically administering across the academic year student surveys at the site, planning and overseeing data analysis, and analyzing and reporting on student responses as findings in annual reports.

Samaritan Center – Detroit, MI (On-going)
Focused on the supports provided to highly vulnerable Detroit residents, the collaborative project represents a partnership with a Washington University, St. Louis colleague (urban planning and policy), Dr. Carol Camp Yeakey. We are examining the impact of wrap-a-round services provided to a blighted community of Detroit (East Detroit) by the Samaritan Center (i.e., a constituent project of Holy Cross Children’s Services, HCCS).  I have provided consultative services and/or participated as a Research Advisory Committee member to HCCS for over a decade. Given the Promise Neighborhoods National Initiative and national and international interest in same, the project provides an analysis of a particular and parallel initiative which includes wrap-a-round services organized as a one-site facility: The Samaritan Center. As a team, Dr. Yeakey and I are working on a set of volumes which analyzes the character of resources afforded (and their on-site delivery). Framed as an organized set of services, the history of the Samaritan initiative, and its various relationships both at the neighborhood and city-wide levels, are considered an analyzed. The Samaritan Center is viewed as representing a highly successful and innovative strategy for providing services to a long-term under-serviced low resource community of Detroit (i.e., the east side of Detroit, MI).

Ongoing analysis of a previously collected NIMH/NSF and multiple Foundation supported data set (On-going)
Data statistician Dr. Lauren Rich (Chapin Hall) and I continue to analyze data on urban youths’ resiliency and coping processes. We have analyzed sets of ego resiliency focused data and, in addition to making presentations, plan several research papers. Utilizing multiple publication formats, data preparations are underway for submission as collaborative efforts with several advanced doctoral students, junior colleagues and (CHD) post-docs. The several research products will be submitted during the upcoming summer and academic year. 



Book Projects

“Good Samaritans” (tentative title: project underway) - Book project with C. Yeakey (Washington University, St. Louis) on the character of services provided (i.e., education, socio-emotional and physical) by a long-term faith-based supported Social Service Agency in a blighted urban community.

“The Ghosts of Brown v., 1954: Identity, resiliency and becoming” (tentative title: single authored project underway) - A theoretical and empirical analysis of urban youths' human development, status linked vulnerability, and school linked competencies given the 60+ years since the Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 Decision.

“Unraveling Youth Resiliency and Risk while Standing up and Pushing Back:  An autobiography”—(tentative title: single authored project underway)-The author uses autobiography for articulating the nature of and reasons for a program of research, theorizing and implementation on human vulnerability and the pathways of youth resiliency.


In progress/ In-press Publications

Dupree, D., Spencer, T. R., & Spencer, M. B. (expected 2014). Challenges to and patterned resiliency among African American youth. In Theron, L. C., Ungar, M. A., & L. Liebenberg (Eds), Resilience and culture(s): Commonalities and complexities.

McGee, E. O., Hall, J., Spencer, M. B. (expected 2015).  Black parents as advocates, motivators, and teachers of mathematics.   In Nasir, N., Lee, C. and Pea, R. et al (Eds.) The handbook for the cultural foundations of learning.

Spencer, M.B. & Spencer, T.  (expected 2015).  Commentary: Exploring the promises, intricacies and challenges to positive youth development. In Lerner, R. et al.  Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Spencer, M. B., Swanson, D. P. & Harpalani, V. (expected 2015). Conceptualizing the self: Contributions of normative human processes, diverse contexts and social opportunity. In Lamb, M., Coll, C. G., & R. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology and developmental science. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Spencer, M. B. & Swanson, D. P.  (expected 2015) Vulnerability and resilience: Illustrations from theory and research on African American youth. In D. Cicchetti (Ed.), Handbook of developmental psychopathology. New York: John Wiley & Sons.


Recent Publications 

Spencer, M.B. & Hope, E. (2017). Civic Engagement as an Adaptive Coping Response to Conditions of Inequality: An Application of Phenomenological Variant of Ecological Systems Theory (PVEST). In N. Cabrera & Leyendecker, B. (Eds.) Handbook on Positive Development of Minority Children and Youth(pp. 421-434). New York: Springer.

McGee, E.O.& Spencer, M.B. (2015). Black Parents as Advocates, Motivators, and Teachers of Mathematics.The Journal of Negro Education,84(3), 473–490. 65/31/17

Spencer, M. B. & Swanson, D. P. (2015). Vulnerability and Resilience: Illustrationsfrom Theory and Research on African American Youth. In Cicchetti, D.(Ed.), Handbook of Developmental Psychopathology, Vol. 4 (pp. 334-380). New York: John Wiley & Sons. 

Dupree, D., Spencer, T. R., & Spencer, M. B. (2015). Stigma, Stereotypes and Resilience Identities: The Relationship Between Identity Processes and Resilience Processes Among Black American Adolescents. In Theron, L. C., Liebenberg, L., & Ungar, M.(Eds.), Youth Resilience & Culture:Commonalities and Complexities(pp. 117-129). New York: Springer.

Spencer, M. B., Swanson, D. P. & Harpalani, V. (2015). Conceptualizing the self: Contributions of normative human processes, diverse contexts and social opportunity. In Lamb, M., Coll, C. G., & R. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology and developmental science (750-793). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Spencer, M., & Spencer, T. (2014). Invited Commentary: Exploring the Promises, Intricacies, and Challenges to Positive Youth Development. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 43(6), 1027–1035. doi:10.1007/s10964-014-0125-8

Spencer, M., & Swanson, D. (2013). Opportunities and challenges to the development of healthy children and youth living in diverse communities. Development & Psychopathology, 25(4pt2), 1551-1566. 

McGee, E. O., & Spencer, M. B. (2013). ‘The Development of Coping Skills for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Students: Transitioning from Minority to Majority Environments.’ In Yeakey, C. C., Thompson, V. S., & Wells, A. (Eds.), Urban Ills: Post Recession Complexities of Urban Living in the Twenty First Century. (pp. 351-378).  Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Spencer, M. B. (2013). Margaret Beale Spencer: Pursuing identity focused resiliency research post Brown v. Board of Education 1954. In Brooks-Gunn, J., Lerner, R. M., Petersen, A. C., & R. K. Silbereisen (Eds.), The Developmental Science of Adolescence: History through Autobiography. (pp. 482-493). New York: Psychology Press.

Harpalani, V., Qadafi, A. K.., Spencer, M. B. (2013). Doll Studies. In P. L. Mason (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, 2nd Ed, (pp. 67-70). Detroit: Cengage.