Volume 50 Number 1
Winter 2017

Committee on Ethnic and Racial Affairs

Edited by Chiara Sabina

Penn State Harrisburg

What does it mean to become a diverse university?

Fabricio E. Balcazar, Ph.D.

University of Illinois at Chicago 

I was recently asked to conduct a mentoring training at UIC for faculty in my college (Applied Health Sciences) and the College of Medicine. The training follows guidelines from the “Mentor training for clinical and translational researchers” by Pfund, House, Asquith, Spence, Silet & Sorkness (2012), which is sponsored in part by the University of Wisconsin Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. I want to share with you excerpts from a document that is summarized in the training materials called “Benefits and challenges of diversity in Academic settings” written by Eve Fine and Jo Handelsman (2010). The authors start by emphasizing that the diversity of a university’s faculty, staff, and students influences its strength, productivity, and intellectual environment. Diversity of experience, age, physical ability, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and many other attributes contributes to the richness of the research and teaching experiences for students and faculty alike.

There are of course many benefits to diversity that have been identified in the literature. Diverse working groups are more productive, creative, and innovative than homogeneous groups, and developing a diverse faculty will enhance teaching and research (Herring, 2009). Minority viewpoints stimulate discussion of multiple perspectives and previously unconsidered alternatives, whether or not the minority opinion ultimately prevails (Nemeth, 1995). According to the UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (1995, cited by Antonio, 2002), scholars from minority groups have expanded and enriched scholarship and teaching in many academic disciplines by offering new perspective and by raising new questions, challenges and concerns.

On the other hand, the authors also point out several challenges of diversity. Several researchers (e.g., Riger et al., 1997; Sheridan & Winchell, 2006; Harvard University Task Force on Women Faculty, 2005; etc.) have reported that women and minority faculty members are considerably less satisfied with many aspects of their jobs than the majority male faculty members. These aspects include teaching and committee assignments, involvement in decision-making, professional relations with colleagues, promotion and tenure, salary inequities, and overall job satisfaction. Another study at universities and colleges in eight Midwestern states reported that faculty of color experience exclusion, isolation, alienation, and racism in predominantly white universities (Turner & Myers, 2000). Multiple studies have also demonstrated that minority students often feel isolated and unwelcomed in predominantly white institutions and that many experience discrimination and differential treatment. Such minority status can result from race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, disability and other factors (e.g., Ranking, 2003; Suarez-Balcazar et., 2003).

Part of the problem is that people often hold unconscious, implicit assumptions that impact their judgments and interactions with others. Fine and Handelsman (2010) conclude that in order to reap the benefits and minimize the challenges of diversity, we need to overcome the powerful human tendency to feel more comfortable when surrounded by people we resemble; we need to learn how to understand, value and appreciate differences.  They add that simply adding diverse people to a homogeneous environment does not automatically create a more welcoming and intellectually stimulating campus.  Here are some of their recommendations:

Become aware of unconscious biases that may undermine your commitment to egalitarian principles

Strive to minimize the influence of unintentional biases

Seek opportunities for greater interaction with women and minority colleagues

Focus on the individual and his/her unique characteristics, qualifications, merits, interests, etc.

Treat all individuals—regardless of race, sex, or status – with the respect, consideration and politeness they deserve.

Actively promote inclusive communities – welcome new department members by initiating conversations or meeting with them. Attend social events and make efforts to interact with new members and others who are not part of your usual social circle.

Counter common stereotypes by increasing the visibility of successful women and minority members of your discipline (by the way, I do think that our discipline of Community Psychology has distinguished itself in this regard).

In all my years as a Community psychologist, I have always been proud of our discipline and our commitment to social justice, diversity and equality. However, as community psychologists we are often a small minority within larger psychology departments and our voices are not always heard (“here she/he comes again!). My recent work with these materials made me realize that we have to be constantly vigilant to challenge injustice and discrimination whenever and wherever we see it.  We have to keep up the conversations with our colleagues and students. This is becoming ever more critical given the current political events in our country. Our challenge is finding ways to heal the deep wounds that have been opened by the recent public displays of hatred in our nation. 


Antonio, A. L. (2002). Faculty of color reconsidered: Reassessing contributions to scholarship. Journal of Higher Education, 73, 582-602.

Fine, E., & Handelsman, J. (2010). Benefits and challenges of diversity in academic settings. WISELI, University of Wisconsin.

Harvard University Task Force on Women Faculty. (2005). Report of the task force on women faculty. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Herring, C. (2009). Does diversity pay?: Race, gender, and the business case for diversity. American Sociological Review, 74, 208-224.

Nemeth, C. J. (1995). Dissent as driving cognition, attitudes, and judgments. Social Cognition, 13, 273-291.

Pfound, C., House, S., Asquith, P., Spencer, K., Silet, K., & Sorkness, C. (2012). Mentor training for clinical and translational researchers. W.H. Freeman Mentoring Series and UW Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.

Rankin, S.R. (2003). Campus climate for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people: A national perspective. New York: The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

Riger, S., Stokes, J., Raja, S., & Sullivan, M. (1997). Measuring perceptions of the work environment for female faculty. Review of Higher Education, 21, 63-78.

Sheridan, J., & Winchell, J. (2006). Results from the 2006 study of faculty work life at UW-Madison. Madison, WI: WISELI.

Suarez-Balcazar, Y., Orellana-Damacela, L., Portillo, N., Rowan, J., & Andrews-Guillen, C. (2003). Experiences of differential treatment among college students of color. Journal of Higher Education, 74, 428-444.

Turner, C.S., & Myers, S.L. (2000).  Faculty of color in academe: Bittersweet success. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Racial and Social Justice Mini-Grants 

The Committee on Cultural, Ethnic, and Racial Affairs is proud to announce the recipients of the first round of racial and social justice mini-grants.  These grants promote the concerns of people of color as a focus of community research and intervention and promote the training and professional development of people of color interested in community psychology.  The following were selected as exemplar projects for funding. 

Mapping our Formal and Informal Resources: Addressing Black Student Concerns at the University of Miami

Natalie Kivell, Ivann Anderson, Susie Paterson, Elizabeth McInerney, Scot Evans, Laura Kohn-Wood, and Stacey Kesten

This project plans to identify and connect the formal and informal resources at the University of Miami (UM) to better support black students in building power for social change within and beyond our university walls. The Standing Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (SCDEI) and the Engagement Power and Social Action Research Team (EPSA) have come together to create a strong and connected foundation on which to build social action at UM. Within the bounds of this grant, EPSA will work with members of the SCDEI and the Black Students Concerns identity group (one of nine identity groups under the auspices of the SCDEI) to complete a mapping project of the formal and informal resources across UM using a social network analysis methodology. A convening facilitated by SCDEI and EPSA students will be held after the mapping process to continue to build relationships and connections across our campus. We will simultaneously, through collaborative processes and training, work to build the research capacity of student members of the standing committee so that the work can continue beyond the granting period. Beyond the scope of this grant, this mapping tool developed will be used for the remaining eight identity groups (LGBTQ concerns, religious diversity, gender equity, veteran students, SES, Country of Origin, ableism, and intersectionality) with the plan of building a layered map identifying all formal and informal resources working for justice to be completed by/with the working group on intersectionality. The connections to the standing committee and thus the intersectional focus of its work provides a space with potential to shift the culture and climate of our institution, although the proposed work here is only one step of many needed to make these structural shifts.

Muslim Women Teachers and Civic Engagement

LaRue Allen, Tess Yanisch, Rivka Narvekar, Millie Symns, Mikaeala Santos, Donna Finnegan, Rahimeen Ahmad, Shavonnea Brown, and Chloe Leveille

This study's purpose is to better understand Muslim women’s motivations when they pursue a career in teaching, as well as their perceptions of civic engagement and its (actual or desired) role in their schools and classrooms. We are exploring how family, religious, and educational factors have influenced their civic values and their values as teachers. Because teachers influence their students, exploring teachers’ own civic values and opinions on the role of religion in the public sphere allows us to understand the values they pass along and the barriers they see to this process. Eighteen Muslim women, a mix of current and retired teachers and students in Masters of Education programs, participated in one- to two-hour-long interviews about their careers and civic engagement; we are attempting to recruit more for a total of 25. These women were diverse in terms of family background (some were immigrants or children of immigrants from several different countries); age; and religiosity (some wore hijabs; one described herself as “not religious but culturally Muslim”), and taught or plan to teach a wide range of ages. The interviews covered a range of subjects, including why they were drawn to teaching, their training as teachers, and the influence of family and school experiences in that career decision; their perspectives on their school's role in student civic engagement; and their thoughts on the role of religion in school and in public. We plan to explore themes in how these women navigate their roles as teachers from a religious (and, for many, an ethnic) minority--roles that often include informally educating both students and peers. Their experiences shed light on teaching as a form of civic engagement and the role of religion in civic engagement, as well as on the strength of those practicing community and civic engagement as a part of daily life.

Build Anyway Program

Erin Carney and Sheila DeBerry

The "Build Anyway Program" uses a series of strengths-based classes in order to re-connect homeless U.S. Military Veterans in a transitional living program to their local community. These homeless Veterans often face intersecting challenges--such those relating to culture, race, socioeconomic status, and mental health status--that may compound to make it especially difficult to successfully build new lives. The Program aim is to identify and build upon the skills, strengths, and unique experiences of Veterans in order to refine their sense of purpose. The name of the Program is drawn from a quote by Mother Theresa and seeks to embody the ultimate hope that these gentlemen will feel empowered--regardless of previous and future setbacks--to be actively engaged in their communities.

Engaging, Managing, and Bonding through Race (EMBRace)

Monique McKenny, Riana Anderson, and Howard Stevenson

Engaging, Managing, and Bonding through Race (EMBRace) is a community-based program which was developed to address the specific effects of racism and discrimination in the lives and wellbeing of African-American youth and families. EMBRace is a 5-week culturally-based therapeutic intervention that empowers African-American youth (ages 10-14) and their parent(s) to confront racial stress and trauma together while promoting strength and bonding within the family. EMBRace is designed to increase parent and adolescent competence around racial socialization, reduce parent and adolescent racial stress and trauma, and improve familial psychological well-being as well as adolescent academic engagement. The program involves skill development regarding racial communication, processing racial encounters, and family bonding. EMBRace is the first identified racial socialization intervention for adolescents and their parents that uses culturally-specific theories and evidence-based practices to engage racial encounters and reduce racial stress and trauma. Using role-playing, debating, art, and media, families complete activities together and separately with trained clinicians. EMBRace is led by Drs. Riana Anderson and Howard Stevenson through the Racial Empowerment Collaborative at the Graduate School of Education within the University of Pennsylvania. The program is currently serving families throughout Philadelphia and brings together community members, clinicians, and researchers.

The Virtues of Vegetables: Teaching Urban Agricultural Practices to Underserved Youths at Boys Totem Town

August John Hoffman, Lesli Blair, Rich Downs, and Heather Weyker

We are very pleased to be awarded with the 2016-2017 SCRA Social Justice Award for Community Development. This award money will be devoted to creating a vegetable and horticultural program at a youth detention system (Boy’s Totem Town). Boy’s Totem Town has been serving youths for over 100 years in St. Paul, MN that provides counseling and family therapy to adolescent youths. The award money will be devoted to teaching the youths basic principles of urban agriculture, healthy foods, and ecological/environmental sustainability practices. I am currently a Wisconsin Certified Master Gardener and I will provide training for each of the gardeners in basic horticultural and urban agricultural skills. Part of the goal of this project is in teaching the youths (aged 14 years – 19 years) how urban agriculture impacts both their physical and psychological health. We also hope to teach basic agricultural practices so they may have a viable skill for employment once they leave the Boys Totem Town and pursue a degree program (Food, Community & Sustainability) at Metropolitan State University. We look forward to a very productive and healthy year this Spring 2017!

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