Justine Lee

Undergraduate, Class of 2022

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

First, in my research (i.e., in my DMP), I am investigating the effects of psychoeducation on college students’ mental health, with the hypothesis that psychoeducation can help to destigmatize mental illness among college students. Second, in regard to community-building efforts, I have a podcast called “BYOB: Bring Your Own Baggage,” in which I talk about mental health on college campuses. Through this work, I interview undergraduate students about challenging topics such as eating disorders, toxic masculinity, bipolar disorder, and sexual and gender identity. My hope is that people who listen will feel more connected and less isolated in their experiences. 

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

I know what it’s like to feel really isolated because I felt that way in my first year of college. It’s normal to feel that way, but it’s scarier to deal with it when you feel like you’re all alone. I don’t want anyone else to feel that way; I don’t want people to feel embarrassed to be struggling, and I want them to feel comfortable asking for help. Toward this end, my goal is to help make talking about therapy as easy as talking about getting a haircut. 

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

Dr. Jessica Stern and Dr. Alison Nagel were my first professors to talk about mental health in their classes, and that really impacted me. They were very caring, receptive to feedback, shared important resources, and clearly prioritized their students’ mental health over their grades. I also look up to Shannon Savell, my DMP mentor, who has introduced me to the Diversifying Scholarship conference and discussed critical topics with me, such as the importance of expanding mental health research among people of color.

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?

For me, the biggest challenge has been the cultural stigma of being Asian American. There aren’t many Asian American therapists because in Asian cultures, we are told to keep our heads down in the face of racism and inequality; there is a fear of speaking out and getting professional help. However, representation among therapists is so important because various minority groups have unique experiences, and it’s important for people to be able to connect with their therapist in regard to their experiences. I’ve had to learn that it’s ok to admit you’re not ok, and through my experiences and education, my parents have been learning, too. It’s been motivating to see that even though they grew up in a different time, they can still learn and are still willing to learn. In regard to the podcast, last year after the Atlanta spa shooting, I had two episodes go up about what it’s like to be an AAPI woman in the current times. Through this experience, I got to talk to many Asian American women who have had similar experiences, and it was so nice to be able to connect with them and process these experiences together. It was empowering to hear their stories and to hear them speak out against racism and inequality. After the episodes went up, many Asian individuals reached out to us, and it was motivating for my guests and me to see that other people could relate and that our experiences have not been unique to us.

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

Even though it can be scary to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially when you’re a minority, you’re not alone in your experience. Even if you can help just one person by sharing your story or speaking out, it’s worth the risk. Over time, it gets easier, and you’ll meet so many like-minded people who share your goals and who you can create community with.

Alexis Stanton

Community Psychology PhD Student

Describe your research in five words.

Black women’s media use + health

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.

My research uses an intersectional lens to understand how U.S. Black women’s simultaneous experiences of racism and sexism shapes their digital media engagement. Through my research, I aim to uncover which aspects of Black women’s digital media use may contribute to their individual and collective   identity development, mental health, and positive community building, while also identifying the unique barriers, stressors, and marginalization that Black women face in digital spaces.

In addition to my research, I am passionate about promoting institutional equity. For the past three years, I have served as the Graduate Student Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) for the UVA psychology department. In this role, I have worked to promote a more equitable and inclusive department, with two incredible faculty directors of DEI, Dr. Bethany Teachman and Dr. Noelle Hurd. What I enjoy most about this role is   having the opportunity to support and amplify marginalized and underrepresented voices. I also enjoy collaborating with people across levels within the department (i.e., with     undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and staff) to promote change. Outside of the university context, I have had the pleasure to work as a research evaluation and data assessment consultant for the Radicle Root Collective, LLC, which partners with cross-sector organizations who are seeking to transform their workplace culture and promote racial equity.

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?

In his scholarship, legal scholar and civil rights activist, Professor Derrick Bell, emphasized the importance of understanding how racism has been “internalized and institutionalized,” and therefore, a permanent fixture within our society (Bell, 1992; Hoag, 2020). Yet, he urges us to not despair, and instead, to channel this insight into continuous, meaningful action. In the spirit of Professor Bell’s work, the biggest challenges I face are: (1) reconciling how the scope of DEI/the issues at hand often feel much larger than me and my contributions; and (2) learning how to cultivate the necessary balance in DEI work between pessimism and hope, realism and idealism, and  dismantling and building. However, I am motivated to persist because I feel accountability in making the world a more just and equitable place and I know that I am not in it alone. I am so grateful for all my mentors, peers, friends, and family who have a shared and sustained commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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

I would like to reiterate that engaging in DEI work is a shared and sustained commitment. It is a journey in which change may sometimes be slow and hard to see, but the work matters. For those who engage in DEI work and who hold marginalized identities, take it day by day, have self-compassion and grace, and take care of yourself

Lanice Avery

Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and Psychology

(Transcribed from an interview)

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

My interdisciplinary research takes up questions of intersectional identity development, gendered racism, identity management and coping, and psychosexual wellbeing, specifically among young Black women and femmes. It's informed by theories and methods from Black feminist studies, from gender and sexuality studies, public health, and media studies. I focus on improving the information, research, measurement, diagnosis, and treatment disparities experienced by some of our most systemically vulnerable and stigmatized populations in the US.

My lab is primarily staffed with doctoral students and research assistants who identify as first generation and historically underrepresented people of color. Many of those students also identify as non-binary or gender expansive and queer. The students enter my lab wanting to explore how systemic oppression constrains healthy development for vulnerable populations. This requires that they develop a strong command of multiple empirical methods. We use quantitative, qualitative, content analysis, mixed methods, participatory action research--the students at every level have to gain a dexterity in order to be efficacious and contribute to the knowledge we’re producing. They also have to be really savvy with different strategies for recruiting what is considered a “hard-to-reach” population, which we call systemically obstructed populations.

I facilitate a lot of professional connections and collaborations with undergrad and grad students across the Department of Psychology. Most recently, we’ve been doing a lot of work bridging the Community and Quantitative Areas, as well as other UVa departments like with WGS, School of Education, Human Development, Media Studies, MESALC, Drama, Politics, Music, Sociology, African American Studies. I have collaborations with all of those folks and they are utilizing our students to speak on panels, to serve on executive committees, and to motivate them to be more mission driven and more impactful with diversity, equity, and inclusion—not only on the departmental level, but also in the questions they’re taking up. Further, I’ve connected my students with research and professional development opportunities within the tech industry and media research centers.

Finally, my departmental teaching, including my guest lectures, focuses on health, equity, and social justice. I teach a course called Psychology of Women and Gender, which is a broad survey of the literature and psychological science on women’s health, addressing things like gender stereotypes, gendered socialization, equitable romantic relationships, sexual development, pregnancy and motherhood as it relates to disparities and mental health, and gender inequalities in the workplace and gendered violence more broadly. Then I teach the Psychology of Racial Identity, which reviews foundational theories of racial identity, development, socialization, intersectionality, and group representation in the mainstream media. Those courses generally draw students from across the university. It’s been a really beautiful transformation to see so many students from WGS and Sociology declare double-majors in Psychology.

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 at our institution, and socially, is that it's a structural issue. I feel like I’m really impactful in getting folks to understand that they are stakeholders in issues of equity on an individual level. But institutional discrimination is structural and sometimes we produce work that raises a public or personal consciousness that doesn’t actually change structural barriers.

When I came to the Community Area, it looked very different. We are adding a bunch of women and people of color to the faculty. But there’s still a way that the PhD program is meant for people who have an opportunity to make this much money in their adulthood, who can leave their families and their relationships and their responsibilities, and live in a place where they can’t get hormone therapy. We have all of these resources for making coursework more accessible but our physical infrastructure is not accessible. We live on hills and elevators are not always running. The challenge is always paying attention to the structural so all the work we’re doing on the interpersonal doesn’t fall flat.

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

I think Psychology is a powerhouse institution in terms of what influence we have on political and social transformation. Of all the social sciences, there is something really powerful about the ways the APA has been interconnected with our government and our policies. If you can get the APA to make a position statement on something, often people listen and it has very far reach. In terms of being a scholar-activist who moved from doing more direct action work in my youth, I use the strategy of gaining partnerships and being evidence-based and documenting how systemic racism creates shorter life expectancies based on color, based on gender, and based on legal status. At this moment, when media creators are so thirsty for content, it’s a real opportunity for us to lead the dissemination of information. I feel like I’m in the midst of a moment where every question could have an endless ripple effect on the social transformation and the attitudes that we have about multiple marginalized folks.

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

Come on in, the water’s fine! I say that facetiously. It’s difficult and sometimes it feels like your efforts are futile because the deck’s so stacked, but I think it’s a moral imperative. The way that inequity functions is it really eclipses folks’ life. It’s really difficult to say that there’s anything else to spend your time on when you recognize that there’s an inequality that’s being maintained and produced that reduces not only quality of life but literal life expectancy. Being able to devote your attention and being able to become part of the contingencies of colleagues who are doing that work, it feels like time well spent.

It’s never too late. One of the most powerful things that we can all do is be grateful that we don’t have to do it by ourselves. Nobody is supposed to do it by themselves—we work in a field that is excited about building collaborations and connections. We are scholars, which means that we’re supposed to be lifetime learners. Be curious, ask questions, build connections, and the more tools you have in the arsenal, the more powerful you can be. I never go into a neuro talk or an econ talk thinking, “there’s nothing I can learn here.” There’s something in every corner that can make you more efficacious in what you’re trying to do.