Alumna Works “In the Gray Area” to Support Incarcerated Youth

Kathryn McGill

BA/MA Psychology/Criminology & Justice

When Kathryn McGill ‘17C, ‘18G decided to pursue the combined Bachelor of Arts/Master of Arts in Psychology and Criminology and Justice at St. John’s, she felt the program struck the perfect balance between her interests in individual behavior and the systems that surround the individual.  

“The intersection of these two fields prepared me for the work I do now, which is about individuals who are involved in systems,” she said. “It’s also about how systems can fail an individual, leading to their involvement with the criminal justice system.” 

Ms. McGill is a doctoral student in the Clinical and Counseling Psychology program at the University of South Alabama. Her work centers on youth in the criminal justice system, providing therapy for young people who are detained for various crimes.  

Recently, Ms. McGill published a paper, “The Code of Honor as a Predictor of Anger and Aggression,” in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, along with co-authors and St. John’s professors Raymond A. DiGiuseppe, Ph.D., ABPP, and Yue (Angela) Zhuo, Ph.D. The study examines the relationship between perceived threats to a set of cognitions labeled Code of Honor with anger and aggression. 

The article grew out of an independent study project Ms. McGill developed with Dr. DiGiuseppe, research that later evolved into Ms. McGill’s master’s thesis at St. John’s. Through this ongoing collaboration among Ms. McGill, Dr. DiGiuseppe, and Dr. Zhuo, the researchers have determined that self-esteem mediates the relationship between honor and aggression, especially in relationship to threats to one’s reputation.  

“The combined study in Psychology and Criminology and Justice at St. John’s gave me the research basis and context to understand both fields and work seamlessly between them,” said Ms. McGill. “The work I do now is within the gray area between those fields.”  

In preparation for her work within the criminal justice system, Ms. McGill participated in St. John’s Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program , led by former Professor Judith Ryder, Ph.D. The program allowed St. John’s students to take a sociology course alongside incarcerated students at Riker’s Island, allowing both groups to interact with and learn from one another.  

“As a result of the Inside-Out program, I came to realize that the only group we’re still allowed to discriminate against are incarcerated people,” said Ms. McGill.  

Since graduating from St. John’s in 2018, Ms. McGill spent a year backpacking through Europe before beginning her doctoral program. Originally from Gilroy, CA, Ms. McGill came to St. John’s because she craved the independence of city life in New York, along with the intimate setting that St. John’s Queens campus provides.  

“St. John’s has a big city feel within a campus environment,” she said. “It is the best of both worlds.” 

As a Catholic Scholar, Ms. McGill appreciated St. John’s integration of service and Vincentian principles, which she continues to embody in the work she does today.  

“You can’t change the entire system in one day, because you’re just one person,” she said. “Rather than try to change everything, I celebrate the small victories and work to give a voice to people who don’t necessarily have one.”