Apryl Alexander ’09 M.S., ’12 Psy.D., is many things: a clinical assistant professor at University of Denver (DU), co-founder of the DU Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI), a TEDxMileHigh speaker, a first-generation black college student, a proud Panther and, most recently, one of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine’s 2020 “Emerging Scholars.”
But if you ask her, she is, simply, a scholar-activist.
“My passion for social justice work came from identifying societal and systemic problems from my work with clients,” Apryl says. “Discovering how social determinants of health—such as educational/vocational conditions and attainment, health access, poverty and food insecurity—impact mental and physical health has led me to discover ways to disrupt those barriers to people receiving adequate care.”
Apryl had aspired to become a veterinarian until her experience volunteering at a women’s resource center during her undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech inspired her to switch her major to psychology. After that, her desire to concentrate on forensic psychology while continuing to pursue her interest in studying trauma and child maltreatment led her to Florida Tech.
“The Family Learning Program, a sexual abuse treatment program for children, adolescents, and their families that is housed in the department, was the perfect match for what I was looking for in my training,” she says. “Florida Tech was the perfect fit!”
Apryl served as a student clinician with FLP for four years and was elected to serve as the associate director during her fourth year.
“The experience allowed me to see that treatment works. I was able to see children, their siblings and their caregivers heal from trauma and go on to lead wonderful lives,” she says.
“Since I’ve become a faculty member, I’ve appreciated the mentorship I had at Florida Tech even more. As a first-generation black college student, I needed a lot of professional development and mentorship on how to navigate graduate school and academia. I had several mentors who offered me support during my time in the Psy.D. program and afterward.”
While she never intended to work in academia, she was drawn in by an Auburn University faculty position running a treatment program that provides adolescents who sexually offend with normative adolescent experiences, like theater, despite their legal status.
“It was one of the most magical experiences of my career to see these boys engage in the performance arts,” Apryl says.
When she left Auburn for her current position at DU, she knew her work in this sphere was not over. She teamed up with DU theatre Professor Ashley Hamilton to pilot similar creative arts workshops in Colorado correctional facilities and formulate the DU PAI, which has since spread to more than five facilities throughout the state and continues to grow.
“The mission of DU PAI is to provide creative and therapeutic arts programming to those who are incarcerated, as well as change the narratives surrounding those who are incarcerated.”
Apryl carries that mission and advocacy for change outside the walls of DU, too.
In December 2018, she presented on the importance of consent education in sexual violence prevention to a 5,000-person audience at TEDxMileHigh.
A few months later, she provided legislative testimony that helped pass a bill requiring consent education for schools that have sex education.
In the last year, she has been featured on local news channels, was interviewed by Colorado Public Radio, had an op-ed published in The Denver Post and was interviewed by and featured in The New York Times.
Despite all of this recent, well-deserved coverage, being recognized as an Emerging Scholar by Diverse, a publication that seeks to build “educational, cultural, social and economic structures that will allow every individual to achieve his or her full human potential,” hits particularly close to home for Apryl.
“Being a first-generation college student, this mission means a lot to me. Diverse provides a platform that emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusivity in academia,” she says. “My scholarship aims to help aid individuals, communities—particularly historically marginalized communities—and systems. In sum, my personal and professional goals align quite well with the mission of Diverse.”
With so much on her plate, as well as the occasional vicarious trauma that can accompany such intimate involvement with heartbreaking, sometimes disturbing situations, Apryl relies on the support of her colleagues, a stringent dedication to self-care and her ceaseless desire for effective, lasting change.
“Though there are devastating, tragic situations in our work, the ‘wins’ are seeing people change, heal and become their best selves—which outweighs a lot of the bad.”