Jennifer Sanftner McGraw, a professor at Slippery Rock University, has been at The Rock for twenty years. Starting in the Psychology Department in 2001, McGraw has left an impact in many different areas.
McGraw began her undergraduate career at Northern Virginia Community College, where she began as a business major. Early on, McGraw made the decision to switch her major after having an Introduction to Psychology class that sold her on the field.
Eventually transferring to George Mason University where she eventually got her Bachelors of Arts, she had a mentor she did research with on the topics of shame and guilt. Her mentor helped push McGraw personally and professionally.
“As an undergraduate, it’s pretty daunting to think about getting a PhD, and she was really encouraging and helpful,” McGraw said. “As part of the work that that I did in her research lab, she allowed me to include some psychological measures in a study that she was doing.”
By having these hands-on experiences in her undergraduate program, McGraw had was able to eventually find her niche in studying eating disorders, disordered eating and body image.
An eating disorder is a diagnosed condition that you have to met certain criteria for and a clinician can make that diagnosis. Disordered eating is the behaviors including binging, overly restrictive eating or similar behaviors.
She eventually used the research she did in her undergrad in a study that was published once she was in graduate school.
Graduating from George Mason University, she moved onto Kent State University where she pursued her masters and PhD in Clinical Psychology. McGraw is a listened, but no practicing clinical psychologist. It was through her education that taught her how to do therapy and assessment.
Since being at SRU, McGraw has narrowed her focus on study and research. “I’ve been at Slippery Rock now since 2001,” McGraw said. “I’ve been doing research in eating disorders, disordered eating and body image, and I look at different body images and different populations of people.”
Through years of research, McGraw has come to many conclusions, but her biggest lessons have been through reflection. She mentions some of the biggest things she has learned over the years.
“What comes to mind first is that almost all women struggle with body image at some point,” McGraw said. “I don’t think I really realized that I thought all these other women had it together.
“The reality is, we live in a culture that is so toxic for women’s ability to love ourselves and accept ourselves as we are. We’re very much raised to believe that there’s something wrong with our bodies, regardless of what shape they are, what size they are. . . that realization really propels me to keep doing the work.”
Her time at Slippery Rock has flown by, between getting promoted, tenured and becoming department chair, McGraw has a deep love for what she does. Working with students and higher education has proven to be the right path for her, she said “[it’s] where my heart has always been.”
McGraw, as she said, “wears a lot of hats,” as being department chair of the Psychology Department, directs Reflections, a club on body image at SRU, while also being the director of the internship program in the Psychology Department.
Beyond that, she is also a member of the President’s Commission on Mental Health and involved with the Women’s and Gender Studies’ work at the University. She mentions that she has always had interest in feminist perspectives and she has been involved with Women’s studies very early on in her time at SRU.
“I’ve always had an interest in the feminist perspectives because there’s so much that feminist perspectives teach us about eating disorders and how societally cream they are,” McGraw said. “We have higher levels of eating disorders in societies where we have a lot of media presence where women are portrayed in ways that are unrealistic physiologically.”
McGraw’s perspective also helped aid her on another journey in her career where she co-authored a book that was released in November 2020 titled, “Multifamily Therapy Group for Young Adults with Anorexia Nervosa.”
This book was a product of a collaboration with Mary Tantillo, a faculty member at University of Rochester Medical Center where McGraw did her internship and two years of postdoc. Their research began then and has been a continued collaboration.
McGraw is also involved in a research group with other professors in the Psychology Department. Working with Katherine Massey and Emily Keener, they are studying body image and disordered eating across a wide range of people. They are specifically gathering a large LGBTQ+ sample, and making sure to keep the study diverse with different identities and sexualities across the board. McGraw mentions the importance behind the study.
“We know that LGBTQ+ populations are more prone to disordered eating and eating disorders . . . they can really be susceptible to those kinds of problems as a result of facing oppression and discrimination.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has paused a lot of projects that McGraw is involved in, but she is missing seeing her students and colleagues. She recognizes the fact that everyone is experiencing some level of Zoom fatigue and feeling disconnected from many things as a result.
In her 20 years at SRU, McGraw has had many professional and personal accomplishments, and has built great relationships with both faculty and students. She is ready to be back in person and getting back to work on her research.