Melissa Fortner

Associate Professor of Psychology; Chair, Division of Social Sciences

Psychology professor Melissa Fortner aspires to promote her students’ understanding of humanity, and that begins with an understanding of themselves and their relationship to the world.

“Such understanding requires a cultivation of critical thinking, honest introspection, and communication skills,” she says.

Fortner cultivated those skills during her own undergraduate days at Transylvania, where she completed a double major in psychology and philosophy. Eight years later, in 2004, she returned to her alma mater, where she now helps students grapple with questions about how society shapes individuals, and how gender-, race-, and class-based systems of privilege affect all Americans.

One of the most rewarding elements of teaching is watching students have those moments of realization that something they’re learning in class has significance for the choices they make in their own lives.

The ultimate goal, says Fortner, is to help students develop as autonomous, authentic, life-long learners who are mindfully and ethically engaged in the world.

Academic History

Ph.D., Human Development and Family Studies, Penn State University, 2004
M.S., Human Development and Family Studies, Penn State University, 2000
B.A., Psychology and Philosophy, Transylvania University, 1996

Courses Taught at Transy

Lifespan Development
Doing Gender in Marriage
Issues In Developmental Psychology: Identity Development
Issues in Developmental Psychology: Parenting/Parenthood
Issues in Developmental Psychology: Family Development
General Psychology
Statistics for the Social Sciences
Senior Seminar in Psychology
First-Year Seminar

Areas of Specialization

Social justice pedagogy
Critical feminist psychology
Systems of privilege and oppression as an organizing feature of development


Bingham Award for Excellence in Teaching (2008, 2014, 2018)
Top 50 Reviewer, Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal for Applied Family Studies
Kenan Fund grant

Professional Memberships

National Council on Family Relations: member of the Feminism and Family Studies section and the Race and Ethnicity section
American Association of University Professors
American Psychological Association
Association for Psychological Sciences

Recent Publications

Fortner, M. (2020). Undermined by praise: Using student exploration of stereotype content to enhance understanding of privilege and oppression. In M. S. Wong et al. (Eds), Incorporating diversity in classroom settings: Real and engaging examples for various psychology courses, Vol. II: Intersectionality (p. 194-201). American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C.

McCloud, J.D., & Fortner, M. (2018, February). A Pilot Peer Observation Program Grounded in McCloud’s Five Fundamentals. Roundtable discussion conducted at annual conference of the Eastern Educational Research Association, Clearwater, FL.

Fortner, M. (2017, January). Infusing a social justice orientation into psychology courses. Participant Idea Exchange conducted at the annual National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology, St. Pete Beach, FL.

Associate Editor for Race, Class, and Gender (2013-2015), Encyclopedia of Family Studies (Constance Shehan, Editor; published by Wiley Blackwell Publishers in 2016).

Fortner, M. (2014, August). Marriage and social class: The great lie that marriage uplifts. Invited lecture, August Term Lecture Series.

Fortner, M. R. (2013, May). Reading the social sciences: Making (non)sense of pop psychology. Public presentation, Pub Talk Series, West Sixth Brewery, Lexington, KY.

Book Review Editor (2011-2013), Journal of Family Theory and Review (Robert Milardo, Editor; Wiley Blackwell).

Fortner, M. (2012). Widening the lens on the discussion of race and marriage: Introduction to book reviews of Is Marriage for White People, by Ralph Richard Banks. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 12(4), 354-355.

Fortner, M. R. (2009). Book review: Parenting in the 21st Century. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71(4), 1104 – 1106.