By: Jessica E. Brodsky and Adam Green, on behalf of the GSTA Steering Committee
At the beginning of June, the GSTA expressed its solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and with our fellow Black and brown graduate students in our position statement and call to action for graduate student teaching assistants and instructors of psychology. In our statement, we identified six actions that graduate student instructors and teaching assistants can take to make our instruction more inclusive, equitable, and anti-racist. In this series of posts for the GSTA Blog, members of the GSTA Steering Committee will be expanding on each of these action items and including resources that may be useful for other instructors and teaching assistants in psychology courses. We recognize that these are just a few of the many amazing resources available and encourage you to share resources that you have found helpful with us through Facebook (www.facebook.com/groups/theGSTA), Twitter (@gradsteachpsych), email (email@example.com), or the GSTA listserv (http://lists.apa.org/cgi-bin/wa.exe?A0=DIV2GSTA).
For our first blog post, we provide background and resources for two of the action items that focus explicitly on what we teach in our psychology courses:
- Decolonize your syllabi by including the work of scholars and psychologists from diverse identities and backgrounds
- Discuss with students and colleagues how discrimination and inequity have shaped the field of psychology and the world around us
As part of decolonizing their pedagogy, instructors rethink their instruction in a way that “highlights, examines, and discusses transforming the mutually reinforcing systems of neocolonial and capitalist domination and exploitation in the United States” (Tejeda, Espinoza, Guttierrez, 2002, p. 31). Transforming your syllabus to intentionally highlight the works and perspectives of scholars outside the traditional canon is one starting point for beginning to decolonize your pedagogy. However, decolonizing efforts extend far beyond our choice of texts to include all aspects of students’ learning, ranging from the course design to assessment and evaluation practices (Biermann, 2011; Tejeda et al., 2002). For more information about decolonizing pedagogy, as well as resources for decolonizing your syllabus and other aspects of your course, see Franklin-Phipps’ (2020) materials from their workshop on Decolonizing Pedagogy.
Increasing representation of diverse scholars in the psychology curriculum also provides an opportunity for undergraduates to see themselves in the curriculum. Black and brown psychology majors are deeply aware of the lack of diversity in the psychology curriculum and faculty. A study of psychology majors in the United States (N = 1,867) conducted in 2005 found that, as compared to European American students, Black, LatinX, Asian American, and mixed ethnicity students were more likely to perceive their racial / ethnic group as being represented stereotypically, unfairly, inaccurately, or not at all (Lott & Rogers, 2011). These students were also more likely to identify the goal of increasing diversity in both the psychology faculty and curriculum as ways to improve the field (Lott & Rogers, 2011). Increasing the diversity of our curriculum is especially important given that today’s undergraduate students are more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before, while the majority of college instructors and psychology professionals continue to be White (Davis & Fry, 2019; Lin et al., 2018).
This mismatch between faculty and students poses a problem for students from diverse backgrounds. Seeing mostly White faculty and White figures highlighted in the field of psychology can give students the impression that academia is not a viable option for non-White students. While we, as graduate student teaching assistants and instructors, do not have immediate influence over faculty hiring practices, we can highlight the contributions of diverse psychologists by including them in our syllabi and discussing their lives and their work in class. If you are set to teach in the coming year, we highly recommend taking the time to go through the resources below to identify and foreground diverse psychologists in your syllabus.
Instructors may find the following websites useful as they identify psychologists to include in their syllabi:
Highlighting the works of diverse scholars offers an opportunity for students to think critically about issues of diversity and racism throughout the field of psychology, including what research questions are asked and whose work is published. As Gone (2011) notes, “the history of psychological science, as it has intersected with ethnoracial, cultural, and other marginalized domains of group difference, is replete with disinterest, dismissal, or denigration of these diverse forms of psychological experience” (p. 234). Since the 1970s, research articles published in top-tier cognitive, developmental, and social psychology journals have rarely focused on race, despite the importance of racialized experiences in shaping human psychology (Roberts et al., 2020). Furthermore, articles that do study race are primarily written and edited by White scholars, highlighting systemic inequality in academic publishing and offering just one of many examples of inequity in academia (see O’Meara, 2014).
Students should be asked to thoroughly question choices around who is recruited as a participant and which research methodologies are used, as well as the implications of failing to examine the roles of culture and context in the study of psychology. For example, instructors can ask students to consider how recruiting primarily WEIRD participants (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic; Henrich et al., 2010), and the dominance of the distance perspective (i.e., disinterestedness in the sample and avoidance of “insider bias”) affect the generalizability of research findings, while alienating both participants and researchers from marginalized groups (Nzinga et al., 2018). Engaging students in thinking critically about these issues can help students understand the urgency of considering sociocultural factors as part of their own scientific inquiry (APA Goal 2.5, APA; 2013). As Nzinga et al. (2018) argue: “systematic, empirical science that is responsive to communities, policies, cultures, and contexts is ‘just good research’” (p. 11439).
Instructors may find the following resources helpful for structuring their discussions with students:
To wrap up, we want to note that, in 2019, the APA published Guidelines on Race and Ethnicity in Psychology, which provide fundamental guidelines on promoting racial and ethnocultural responsiveness and equity in the field, as well as specific guidelines for psychology education and training, research, and practice. Each guideline describes concrete ways that psychologists can apply that guideline. We encourage you to take a look at this excellent resource.
American Psychological Association. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/undergrad/index
Biermann, S. (2011). Knowledge, power and decolonization: Implication for non-indigenous scholars, researchers and educators. Counterpoints, 379, 386-398.
Davis, L. & Fry, R. (2019). College faculty have become more racially and ethnically diverse but remain far less so than students. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/31/us-college-faculty-student-diversity/
Gone, J. P. (2011). Is psychological science a-cultural? Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 17(3), 234–242. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023805
Henrich, J., Heine, S. & Norenzayan, A. (2010). Most people are not WEIRD. Nature 466, 29. https://doi.org/10.1038/466029a
Lin, L., Stamm, K., & Christidis, P. (2018, February). How diverse is the psychology workforce? Monitor on Psychology, 49(2). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/02/datapoint
Lott, B., & Rogers, M. R. (2011) Ethnicity matters for undergraduate majors in challenges, experiences, and perception of psychology. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 17, 204–210. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023673
Nzinga, K., Rapp, D. N., Leatherwood, C., Easterday, M., Rogers, L. O., Gallagher, N., & Medin, D. L. (2018). Should social scientists be distanced from or engaged with the people they study? PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(45), 11435–11441. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1721167115
O’Meara, K., (2014, January 13). Change the tenure system. Inside HigherEd. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2014/01/13/essay-calls-reform-tenure-and-promotion-system
Roberts, S. O., Bareket-Shavit, C., Dollins, F. A., Goldie, P. D., & Mortenson, E. (2020). Racial Inequality in Psychological Research: Trends of the Past and Recommendations for the Future. Perspectives on Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691620927709
Tejeda, C., Espinoza, M., Guttierrez, K. (2002). Toward a decolonizing pedagogy: Social justice reconsidered. In P. P. Trifonas (Ed.), Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social justice (pp. 9 - 38). Taylor & Francis Group.