Diversity and Inclusion Spotlights

Mihret Niguse

Undergraduate, Class of 2022

How do you promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in your research, leadership, engagement in student organizations, and community-building efforts? 

I am the president of a cultural organization called the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association (EESA). EESA is the most visible way that I promote diversity and inclusion here at UVA. EESA is a place for people like me (of Ethiopian, Eritrean and East African backgrounds) to share their culture and experiences with the broader UVA community. Along with that, I am also a part of the Early Steps Psychology lab, which conducts longitudinal research on 731 ethnically diverse families and investigates the effects of family interventions on drug use, high risk behavior and other types of problem behaviors. 

Why are you committed to excellence in diversity, equity, and inclusion? What do you hope to accomplish through your efforts?

As someone who has benefited from others’ commitment to diversity and equity, I believe it's important to continue this work so that others also get these opportunities. Through an organization called My Sister’s Keeper, I am able to give back and help those who are younger than me. I mentor an African American high school student who has hopes of being a pre-med student, just like me. I am able to help her navigate her personal life, classes, and college prep. Through this effort I hope to open up doors and improve her chances of getting into the college she wants to attend. 

Who was/has been an important mentor in your work (either as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion, or more generally?

The deans at the Office of African American Affairs (OAAA), especially Dean Apprey, have been such great mentors, and have provided me with great resources over these past few years. Dean Apprey has encouraged me to apply for positions even when I didn’t see myself represented in them. Dean Gregory is also a big part of why I am here at UVA. Her commitment to helping students, especially those from first generation low income backgrounds, is one that has inspired and also motivated me to do the same. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion? What motivates you to persist in the face of these challenges?

The biggest challenge that I’ve faced is feeling out of place and outnumbered in the UVA community. This is especially challenging for my organization, EESA, which is pretty small and very recently established; so, when trying to promote events and do outreach, the biggest challenge we face is getting support from people outside of the African/African American Community. Regardless, I am motivated to continue expanding EESA and reaching communities outside of our own. 

What advice would you give to others who are considering getting involved with efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Representation matters. Data collected by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) found that only 5% of all physicians identified as being Black or African American (AAMC, 2018a); and, out of that 5%, only 2.6% are women of color (AAMC, 2018b). This stark lack of Black female representation exists not only in the medical field, but also in the scientific community. As an Ethiopian American Black woman pursuing medicine, this reality awaits me. I have learned that success cannot be achieved alone, and I firmly believe that this is why I am where I am today. From the deans at the OAAA who proved critical to my pre-med journey, to my lab team at Early Steps, these individuals believed in me. My advice is to simply get involved where you are. There are lots of areas where representation can be improved, so I would say do what you can to increase the diversity within your field.

References

Association of American Medical Colleges. (2018a). Retrieved from https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/workforce/interactive-data/figure-18-percentage-all-active-physicians-race/ethnicity-2018

Association of American Medical Colleges. (2018b). Retrieved from https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/workforce/interactive-data/figure-20-p...


Shannon Savell, MA

Clinical Psychology PhD Student

Describe your research in five words: 

“Mechanisms to improve family functioning”

How do you think about issues of diversity and equity in your research? Please describe the work that you do in the community to advance equity.

I strive to use a racial and social justice lens for every step of my research process. Three practical methods I use include: 1) using a strengths-based design, 2) being mindful of implications of research questions, and 3) utilizing inclusive participant recruitment strategies that not only include historically underrepresented participants in the study sample but also involve participants from historically underrepresented backgrounds in development of research design and dissemination of study findings. 

To promote diversity, equity and inclusion in research, I co-lead a team of graduate student researchers in hosting the “Annual Diversifying Scholarship Research Conference” which is a student-led initiative to highlight research on diversity, inequality, bias and inclusivity and expand scholarship focused on socially marginalized communities. This year’s conference will be held virtually on April 9th 2021 from 9AM to 2PM. For more information and to register, please see our website. We hope to see you there!  

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion? What motivates you to persist in the face of these challenges?

At times, it is challenging to get all researchers to believe that the work to advance diversity, equity and inclusion does actually apply to their research program. I believe that all of the research in psychological science can and should be conducted with a racial and social justice lens at every step of the research process. The methods may look different across sub-disciplines but the value of justice and equity need not be separate from the research process. Additionally, many of the challenges in this work are related to funding and training. There is a need to increase training and education in racially and socially just research practices, a need to incentivize and require students and faculty to demonstrate cultural humility in research, and a need to properly incentivize, fund and promote research that addresses racial and social justice topics. 

Why are you committed to excellence in diversity, equity, and inclusion? What do you hope to accomplish through your efforts?

Throughout the history of psychological science and in its current state, default research practices have perpetuated discrimination in a number of ways. This has occurred via the exclusion of participants of color and socially marginalized groups, exploitation of said groups, perpetuating stereotypes and discrimination, and by neglecting to properly incentivize and fund scholarship aimed to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (for review, see Roberts et al., 2020). I believe that striving to address these wrongs and improve the practice of psychological science will benefit the quality of the science. More importantly, it is an ethical responsibility of all researchers. Through efforts to address wrongs and promote excellence in diversity, equity, and inclusion in psychological science, I believe we can illuminate greater understanding of psychological phenomenon that can in turn produce benefits and mechanisms to ameliorate rather than further oppression.

What advice would you give to others who are considering getting involved with efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Be open to learning and approaching your research in a new way. Everyone can be involved in efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in research. When thinking about your research program, engage in and grapple with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in your research practices. Examine how you might change just one step (or more of course!) in your research process to address the ways in which your field in the past and present may have contributed to inequity and systems of oppression through research practices. 


Bethany A. Teachman

Professor of Psychology | Director of Clinical Training

Bethany Teachman Headshot

What have you done to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within the Psychology department? 

I have been fortunate to work with a great team to introduce an annual Diversifying Psychology Visit Day and summer research program for talented students from underrepresented backgrounds to spend time in the department. I’ve also written and received multiple grants to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (e.g., to fund psychology graduate student Directors of Diversity and Inclusion who have been outstanding collaborators on this work). We have tried to increase opportunities for learning about racial injustice and ways to support members of our community from traditionally marginalized groups (e.g., through bringing in speakers, discussions at area lunches, readings). We have also sought to make the department more inclusive by creating different avenues for students, staff, and faculty to raise concerns and ideas (e.g., through regular town halls and an anonymous feedback mechanism). I am learning a lot from the students and working with great collaborators, and look forward to growing the impact of this work.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion? What motivates you to persist in the face of these challenges?

There are times when it has been difficult to engage more colleagues to join the work so there are concerns that the work to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion falls on a very small number of students and faculty (often persons of color), which adds invisible labor and burden. As a person with a lot of privilege, I am thankful for the opportunity to work with outstanding students, staff and faculty who reflect inclusive excellence and add so much value to our department as phenomenal researchers, teachers, mentors, students, advocates, and people. I am continuing to learn and grow in my ability to support diversity, equity, and inclusion and am motivated to keep working toward these goals, both because I believe it is the right thing to do and because all members of our community benefit when this environment is a welcoming and supportive one.

Why are you committed to excellence to diversity, equity, and inclusion? What do you hope to accomplish through your efforts?

I hope that, over time, I and others will become better able to recognize and change the systems we are part of that maintain systemic oppression. I hope that through those efforts we will move toward being a more inclusive environment that celebrates diversity. While this work starts in our homes, labs, and department, my hope is that this work also helps to change the field of psychology so that psychological science can better contribute to addressing societal problems.    

What advice would you give to others who are considering getting involved with efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Keep showing up. We all sometimes make mistakes and say the ‘wrong’ thing, but keep trying. Caring enough to keep trying, keep reading, keep listening, keep taking steps to be anti-racist, and keep being open to feedback can make a big difference.