As part of SPSP’s ongoing commitment to support efforts to change the culture of racism, the SPSP student committee recently hosted a webinar on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). This webinar aimed to assist SPSP members and others in learning about ways to become a better advocate, inform people about concrete actions they could take to fight for DEI, and exchange ideas on practical and tangible DEI initiatives and resources that people could bring back to their departments. Dr. Cynthia Pickett, Associate Professor of Psychology and Associate Vice-Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at DePaul University moderated the panel during this webinar. Other panelists included Dr. Denise Sekaquaptewa (University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan), Dr. Markus Brauer (Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin–Madison), Dr. Selena Kohel (Associate Professor of Psychology, Cottey College), and Ms. Rubi Gonzalez (PhD Candidate, University of Texas at El Paso).
Broadly, the panelists discussed concrete actions and steps toward confronting racism in universities at individual, interpersonal, and broader departmental and institutional levels. As noted by several members of the panel, it can be particularly hard for students to advocate for DEI at their institutions or in their organizations because students often lack the power to and the avenues for creating fundamental change. However, a few panelists also discussed ways students can and should get involved with DEI at their institutions and in their organizations.
On the broader level
Many departments and organizations put out letters regarding systemic racism and calls to action over the summer related to DEI. Ms. Gonzalez recommends following up with those individuals to “pick the conversation back up if you feel it’s lagged.” Dr. Pickett noted that this can be hard for students, especially if they feel they don’t have a voice in the department. She suggested that if you’re not comfortable reaching out to the people with power, try to turn to a faculty member you trust who can advocate with you.
On the interpersonal level
Many students teach or TA, and several panelists discussed how to incorporate DEI into the courses taught. Dr. Kohel highlighted that in classes, teachers can map, bridge, and integrate cultural differences to raise awareness of and impart knowledge regarding the diverse experiences students face. Specifically, Ms. Gonzalez suggested diversifying the syllabi used (i.e., intentionally including articles/books from underrepresented researchers) as well as building in constructive discussion time for important societal issues. In a TA role, there may be less opportunity to make these changes to courses, but students could approach the instructors of record if they’re comfortable doing so to open the conversation toward more inclusive instruction.
Students can also talk with their PIs to see how their own labs can work toward DEI. For example, this may include reading articles as a lab from a diverse set of scholars or brainstorming ways to recruit underrepresented students.
On the individual level
One key way students can work for DEI is continuing to educate themselves on systemic racism and highlight underrepresented voices and perspectives. Ms. Gonzalez discussed how social media can be a great tool to learn more about others’ experiences with racism as well as uplift voices of color. She also talked about how educating oneself first is crucial to carry out change on broader levels.
As a number of panelists mentioned, authentic allyship or being a “co-conspirator in the fight against racism” is hard work. There are many barriers for engaging in anti-racist work at all levels, but students can find this especially challenging. Dr. Pickett highlighted that lasting change requires policy change, but students can play a key role in improving DEI at their institutions and in their organizations by reflecting upon and taking action within each person’s own purview.
To learn more about what SPSP is doing to confront racism, visit the Racism, Bias and Diversity resources page.