Amplified Voices Graduate Committee

ASU Department of Psychology amplifying voices of color

By

Robert Ewing

In response to the protests over the death of George Floyd in May 2020, graduate students in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology found themselves asking how they could enact meaningful change in academia.

This question spawned the Amplified Voices Graduate Committee, a graduate student-led initiative led by Skye Mendes, Vanesa Perez, Juan Hernandez, Beza Bekele, Rana Ulhman, Felix Muniz and Veronica Oro.

According to the American Council on Education, although over 40% of associate degrees and 31% of bachelor’s degrees were earned by a student of color, only 8% were earned by African American students and only 6% of faculty nationwide were African American. Additionally, African American students borrowed on average $4,000 more in student loans per student than any other ethnicity.

The goal of the Amplified Voices team is to foster an open dialogue about real issues and biases that exist in university environments. The Amplified Voices speaker series highlights topics such as the lived experience of underrepresented academics and ways research and teaching practices can be more equity-minded.

“A big goal that we had in developing this series was to humanize these topics and share these people's lived experiences in the right way. We wanted to put an authentic face and a voice to these topics that are often just talked about in the shadows,” said Vanesa Perez, a fifth-year graduate student in the clinical psychology program.

The project has been funded by programs and individual faculty members within the Department of Psychology and through a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) seed grant from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

ASU psychology community members who RSVP for an Amplified Voices talk will be provided with background resources chosen by the speaker. Each presentation also includes calls-to-action, with the goal of actually activating change.

The first speaker for the series was Clint Smith, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of "Counting Descent," a book of poems published to critical acclaim in 2016, and the forthcoming nonfiction book, "How the Word is Passed," which addresses America's reckoning with its relationship to the history of slavery. He presented stories and poetry with historical context to an audience of over 200 faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students. After illustrating some problems that many students of color face, he described tangible ways to make a difference in academic settings. Smith’s calls to action included the importance of adding historical context to courses taught at universities, reflecting on what stories and histories are included in or omitted from our narratives, and reframing work that may be rooted in deficit models.

“Because of the lack of representation of other academics of color, it can get tough to have those deeper conversations because people do not have the same lived experience. The goal of this series is to answer how we connect with our broader community of color. We want to have experts on race, bias and discrimination in academia present and help to share the basics of how we can do better as a department,” said Juan Hernandez, a third-year clinical psychology graduate student who is also a Sharon Manne Scholar.

The next speaker in the series is Shardé Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut who created the viral hashtag #Blackintheivory. Her talk will feature how “Blackademics” — Black faculty, postdocs and graduate students— can stand up for truth and make lasting change to the traditional structure of academic institutions, the so-called “Ivory Tower.”

 Additional initiatives in the department

The Department of Psychology also recently launched new diversity initiatives including the ENERGIZE Project, designed to make the path easier into research labs for underrepresented students, created an internal Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging committee — Psych for All — and has raised $85,000 of private philanthropy for a new Jenessa Shapiro Undergraduate Research Scholarship to support underrepresented students who are pursuing research.

Visit the ASU Department of Psychology page for more information about the Amplified Voices group and upcoming presentations.