Sonja Peterson-Lewis

SonjaAssociate Professor
(215) 204-1996
829 Gladfelter Hall
1115 Pollett Walk


academic preparation, post-secondary readiness, cultural identity, racial identity; dramaturgy of race, identity and causal attribution, effects of crime; effects of victimization, domestic violence


Sonja Peterson-Lewis is a social psychologist and associate professor in the Department of African American Studies (DAAS) at Temple University.

After earning her doctorate in Psychology at the University of Florida-Gainesville, Peterson-Lewis was an NIMH postdoctoral fellow at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, where she taught psychology and worked with research on effects of media, media violence, and factors affecting outsiders’ attributions about neighborhoods. She came to Temple University in 1985 with a grant to study factors that influence causal attribution and decision making in victims of domestic violence.

In the DAAS, Peterson-Lewis has served as Director of Undergraduate Studies/Advisor and has taught courses on the psychology of the Black experience, family dynamics, cinema, mass media, and Senior Seminar. Most often associated with teaching research methods, she has supervised more than 200 undergraduate/graduate research projects; most projects–including an ongoing study of the effects of crime on victims/survivors–address social issues that her classes identified by conducting exploratory interviews with community residents. In 1994, her interest in fostering undergraduate research led her to found the Temple Undergraduate Research Forum (TURF), now a University-wide event sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies. In DAAS, she founded the Annual AAS Senior Research Conference, several colloquium series for graduate students/faculty, and the annual Ceremony of the Drums for graduating students and their families. She has served on doctora l committees on a broad range of topics both within and beyond the DAAS.

As a President’s Fellow in the 1990s, Peterson-Lewis worked on several campus-community initiatives. As a Provost’s Fellow in the late 1990s, she spent a year in the School District of Philadelphia with the charge of determining factors that affected local graduates’ performance on the University’s freshman curriculum. Her findings report, “Backs to Our Future: A College Teacher Goes Back to High School…” led to a Commonwealth grant with which she developed the Introduction to College Culture (ICC) Workshop Series; the ICC workshop became an inaugural component of Temple University’s Young Scholars Program. A second grant brought college and high school mathematics and English/composition teachers together to create high school-to-college transition assignments, a collection that Peterson-Lewis compiled and edited as “A Handbook of Projects, Exercises and Assignments in Mathematics and English for College-Bound High School Students” for the School Distri ct. She has designed program evaluations and has served on the boards of several higher education preparatory programs, including Summerbridge (now Breakthrough) and the Cosby Academic Posse Program, founded by William Cosby, EdD. In her home county in Florida, she was a founding member of Hooked on Books, an organization providing free books to households.

Beyond Peterson-Lewis’ interest in effects of media and factors affecting students’ academic preparation, a primary interest is in the dramaturgy of identity–how identity variables such as race, color, nationality, gender, social class, and socialization influence causal attributions, attitudes and behavior among individuals and their observers in various contexts. Some findings related to this interest appear in “Perceptions of ‘Acting Black’ among African American Teens: Implications of Racial Dramaturgy for Academic and Social Achievement, published with her graduate student Lisa Bratton [Urban Review, 36(2), 81-100, June 2004.] She is currently transcribing and editing interviews for a study of a Florida community settled by African American Civil War veterans, and the decades of efforts that, in 1956, led to the first high school for African Americans in the county. The project is a multimedia ethno-documentary for which Peterson-Lewis composed part of the sc ore.

Selected Publications and Sponsored Reports

Peterson-Lewis, S. and Bratton, L. (2004). Perceptions of “Acting Black” among African American teens: Implications of racial dramaturgy for academic and social achievement. The Urban Review, 36(2), 81-100.

Peterson-Lewis, S. (ed.) (1998). Handbook of Projects, Exercises, and Assignments in Mathematics and English Composition for the College-Bound High School Student. [ Project sponsored by the Commonwealth of PA, Office of Education for Employment/School-to-Career, School District of Philadelphia, Philadelphia PA.]

Werner, C., Peterson-Lewis, S. and Brown, B. (1989) Inferences about homeowners’ sociability: The impact of Christmas decorations and other cues. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 9(4), 279-296.

Turner, C. W., Hesse, B., and Peterson-Lewis, S., (1986). Naturalistic studies of the long-term effects of television violence. Journal of Social Issues, 42(3), 51-73.

Courses Taught

  • Psychology of the Black Experience
  • Introduction to Research Methods
  • Ethnographic Methods
  • Blacks in Cinema
  • Mass Media and the Black Community
  • The African American Male