Jul 20

We Need More Interracial Contact

When we speak about race, you’ll find that most Americans agree that people of all races and ethnicities should be treated equally and with respect. However, personal experiences and news reports show us that race and ethnicity continues to be a problem and it affects how people are treated and how we all interact with each other on a daily basis. Most of us are aware that racial prejudice has a major impact on our lives and on our community. However, prejudice alone does not fully account for all racial dynamics, including occurrences where people of color may experience different treatment from white people. Therefore, we must realize the impact of racial anxiety (the discomfort people feel in anticipation of or during interracial interactions).

Most of us are concerned about how we may be perceived when we are communicating with others who come from different racial groups or ethnicities, and this can make us feel unsure about how to act. In the subject of race, this concern may be particularly severe, as people of color worry that they will fall victim to racial bias and white people worry that their words or actions will be misconstrued or assumed to be racist. This anxiety very often comes from lack of experience in interacting or being around other racial groups, this leads us to develop cultural stereotypes or distorted perceptions about what other groups are like.

Racial anxiety can be interpreted into behaviors that may seem to be bias, for example, the following are all examples of symptoms of racial anxiety:

  • maintaining less eye contact
  • keeping a physical distance
  • smiling less
  • using an aggressive or less friendly verbal tone, or even
  • avoiding all interactions with people from other races altogether

All these behaviors can have major repercussions for perpetuating racial injustices, for example, a white teacher to appear to be engaging less with students color due to awkward body language, or by actually engaging less with students of color. Also, white employers conducting shorter interviews with non-white applicants, or patients of a certain race being less trusting of doctors from a different race. In addition, avoidance and distancing behaviors can also be due to racial prejudice, and people of different race may interpret these behaviors to be coming from racial prejudice, instead of interpreting them as a result of anxiety about interacting with other racial groups.

However, fortunately, racial anxiety is something that can be changed. This would require us to reach beyond our segregated friendship circles or communities, and develop meaningful relationships with people of other races, this has been proven by psychological research (Tropp, 2011). The more we do, the more we can:

  • develop positive attitudes/empathy with people of other races
  • gain confidence about navigating cross race interactions in the future, and
  • alleviate our anxieties about cross race interactions

Positive experiences with people from other races can also help to lower the impact of negative cross racial encounters and help to make people more resilient when they engage in stressful interactions in the future. Most importantly, the advantage of cross race contact may not occur right away, one brief meeting between strangers or acquaintances can induce anxiety, especially for those with a brief history of interracial experiences. People usually become more comfortable with one another through repeated interactions across racial lines that grow closer over time. Even among people that show high levels of racial bias, physiological signs of stress can decrease through repeated interracial interactions, which can in turn cause future interracial experiences to be more positive in nature.

The circumstances in which people from different races come into contact matter. Reduced prejudice and racial anxiety happens most often when people from different races work together as equals towards a common goal, institutional support that endorses this kind of equal status also helps a great deal. Some examples of how these conditions can facilitate familiarity, positive changes and mutual respect in interracial attitudes are integrated sports teams and cooperative learning strategies. However, such favorable conditions can’t always be guaranteed across different situations. We may use these additional strategies to help create a common sense of identity and increase the potential for members from different groups to become friends, we can do this by establishing norms that promote interaction and empathy between groups and encourage respect for group differences.

However, given the fact that most of our communities and social circles remain segregated, it can be difficult to achieve interracial contact. Racial anxiety is usually a byproduct of racially similar environments, which render cross race interaction less likely and increase the changes that it will be less positive if it does occur. In such cases like these, indirect forms of contact, such as observing positive interracial interactions, or knowing that members of your racial group have friends and/or acquaintances in other racial groups, can help to reduce anxiety, promote more positive expectation for future interracial interactions, and create positive shifts in attitude.

The most important thing is to continue to reduce the impact of racial bias and prejudice, and address the structural and institutional conditions that perpetuate our country’s history of racial discrimination. While engaging in these efforts, we must also realize that addressing our racial anxiety is critical if we hope to achieve long-term goals in removing racialized barriers to belonging, opportunity, and inclusion.

We can use intergroup contact techniques to reduce racial anxiety and promote positive interracial relationships as an important complement to other anti-discrimination efforts. We can all benefit from moving past the confines of our group boundaries and into a broader more open circle of friendships, relationships, and colleagues.


Pettigrew, Thomas & Tropp, L.R.. (2012). When groups meet: The dynamics of intergroup contact. When Groups Meet: The Dynamics of Intergroup Contact. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from 1-310. 10.4324/9780203826461.

Tropp, L. R., & Mallett, R. K. (Eds.). (2011). Moving beyond prejudice reduction: Pathways to positive intergroup relations. American Psychological Association. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://doi.org/10.1037/12319-000




Oct 19

Intergroup Relations/Diversity

In 1895 French doctor and scientist Gustave Le Bon proposed that a group of individuals is different from the sum of its parts. This has become a first principle of modern crowd psychology and has been expanded to postulate that when individuals form a group, this group behaves differently than each individual would normally act.

In the 21st Century, this theory can be seen at work in the narrative of identity politics. From Antifa to Black Lives Matterto the Alt-Right to InCels, and even terror groups such as ISIL. Creating a sense of belonging amongst the disenfranchised is a powerful tool used across the political spectrum.

The most effective tactic deployed to galvanize these individuals to “join up” is the appeal to the emotion of fear. The leadership of these various groups, although not always well organized, deploy a strategy of coercive reality-shaping power that tries to exacerbate the latent emotions of an individual, whipping he or she into a state of frenzied panic and desperately looking to hop on the that group identity’s bandwagon.

One of the issues that arises with this type of strategy is that consideration by the individual for who might be driving that band wagon is negated by the overwhelming emotion of fear.

In Order to Be Controlled, Nature Must First Be Understood

Academics in the Humanities have dedicated their lives to understanding human nature. Inarguably, consensus exists on the use of emotion to elicit a response – the more provocative the emotion, the more powerful the response. One of the principle tenets of emotional intelligence is the process of learning how to understand and thus control emotions.

This poses a clear and present danger to those who engage in the politics of fear to bolster their identity ideologies. As individuals begin to learn, understand, and control their emotions through heightened emotional intelligence, the ability of ideologues to deploy a power strategy of fear to promote tribalism is significantly hindered.

As power dynamics exists on a spectrum of dialectics, the consequence of failed fear mongering has historically been to either yell louder or to heighten the fear narrative, often to the point of hysteria.

As these attempts fail to achieve the originally intended goal, the ideologue must pursue an alternate social power strategy. According to E.M. Vokes & Associates, there are 11 identified forms of social power (used with permission):

Base Power

REWARD POWER: Based on a desire for a reward offered in return for compliance.

COERCIVE POWER: Based on a desire to avoid a threatened consequence.

Source Power


EXCHANGE POWER: Based on an agreement to return, gain,or exchange a favour in its

reward form, or an understanding of the mutual ability to withhold, block or retaliate in its

coercive form (e.g., buyer-seller, politicians exchanging favours, partnerships, international

treaties, Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.), etc.).

LEGITIMATE POWER: Based on the acceptance of the right or privilege of an authority

figure or group by virtue of complementary roles in eachcultural space (e.g., bossemployee,

officer-soldier, teacher-student, parent-child, etc.).

EXPERT POWER: Based on the perception of a superior knowledge base possessed by another person or group whom one regards as useful or desirable (e.g., degrees, professionals,award winners, those with many years of experience).

INFORMATION POWER: Based on the perception that a person or group has information that one does not have, and which one views as useful or desirable (e.g., news media, database

holders, workplace gossip, spies, etc.).

REFERENT POWER: Based on a desire to be liked by and/or accepted by the person or group, or out of a liking and/or respect for the person or group (e.g., “peer pressure”, celebrity status, friendship, admiration, love, etc.). Affective states engaged include attraction, admiration, affection, love, respect, and devotion. Forms the basis of trust and loyalty.

Composite Power

NETWORK POWER: Based on the perception of the value of a network of relationships with others who are perceived to be powerful in this as well as in terms of the other forms of power(e.g., business associates, political connections, friends and family members, neighbourhood, social and online communities, etc.).

INCLUSION/EXCLUSION POWER: Based on the desire for affiliation with, or separation from, a person or group. (e.g., group membership vs. non-membership/expulsion, employment vs. termination/resignation, marriage vs. divorce, free citizen vs.incarceration/exile, etc.). Conformity to existing cultural power norms is typically required to achieve inclusion. Autonomy from existing cultural power norms is achieved through selfexclusion.

SUBORDINATE POWER: Based on the perception that acquiescence with, submission to, or formation of a subordinate alliance with a superordinate power holder (a person or a group)will induce the superordinate to utilize some of their power toward the subordinate’s intended effects. (e.g., children to parents, followers to leaders, victims to protectors, under class togovernment, etc.). Emotional states engaged include hurt, fear, depression, despair, vulnerability, helplessness, or neediness for the other’s empathy, sympathy, pity, compassion, camaraderie, sense of duty, sense of responsibility and/or pride in their capacity to provide assistance, or sense of advantage in accepting the subordination.

REALITY-SHAPING POWER: Based on a willingness to adopt a presented view of reality, alter an opinion or outlook, or change a belief or belief system (e.g., compelling reasoning,presentation of evidence, emotional appeals, illustrative behaviour such as ‘setting an example’, etc.).

A New Wave


As identity politics groups collide head on with individuals developing enhanced levels of emotional intelligence, the ideologues promoting their mission will need to resort to other deployments of social power strategies. From the list above, there are plenty of examples in the media about how groups and individuals are trying to find the right mix of strategic social power deployment to achieve their respective goals.

Soon, society will see more sophisticated and elevated attempts at reality-shaping power from these groups through increasingly coercive and reward-based tactics. For the individual looking to resist the dangerous appeal of tribalism, working to improve emotional intelligence is the best route. Nothing is more powerful than the ability of the human mind to think critically. It’s all we have.

Oct 19

The Squad of Capitol Hill

Congresswomen Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan are the new congresswomen who are known as “the Squad” on Capitol Hill. They are the face of diversity, acceptance, and equality. Above all else, though, they are highly qualified, intelligent, strong minded, and ass-kicking politicians. That’s what they were elected to do. The squad has already started off with a big bang by setting new milestones in the history of Capitol Hill. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are the first two Muslim-Americans to serve in Congress,  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and Ayanna Pressley is the first woman of color to be elected to the Boston City Council (Abramson, 2019; Relman & Ma, 2018; DeCosta-Klipa, 2018). In only a short period of time, people know their names and they listen to what they have to say. Despite their qualifications and devotion, they experience daily attacks, partly due to their politics, but mostly due to their ethnic backgrounds. Like never before, racism is loud and apparent in Capitol Hill. 

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota rose from a refugee camp to Capitol Hill and, ever since, has been one of the current president’s top targets (Abramson, 2019). As one of the first two Muslim-American congresswomen, it’s not easy for Ilhan to just focus on her work because on a daily basis she has to defend bigoted assumptions about her beliefs (Flanagan, 2019). Rashida Tlaib of Michigan experienced similar issues as Omar, as she, too, is a Muslim-American. Recently, both Omar and Tlaib were banned by Israel’s government to enter the country, a decision that was backed by President Trump (2019) as he tweeted “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace” (Green, 2019; Trump, 2019). As Massachusetts first black woman in Congress, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts is no stranger to racism either. Like her other squad members, Pressley was a victim of many racist tweets . The youngest congresswoman ever elected, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, is probably the most targeted person by many politicians, including President Trump. For example, in September, Republicans ran a TV ad depicting picture of Ocasio-Cortez on fire (Schouten, 2019). Furthermore, the squad was also recently been told via twitter to go back to where they came from (Pengelly, 2019). As a result, the squad not only have to work harder than most on their policies but also on defending their beliefs, and assuring people that they are as much of an American as anyone else in the US. 

Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts (2012), state that today blatant racism no longer exists. However, today’s events seem to contradict Schneider et al.’s (2012) statement. Blatant racism is an obvious act of racism such as segregation and clear differential treatment due to their skin color, and as stated above the squad did experience a clear differential treatment compared to their peers (Schneider et al., 2012). What people don’t realize is that having diverse congressmen and congresswomen in Capitol Hill could be beneficial for us, the people, as besides their academic qualifications they also have a built-in functional diversity (Schneider et al., 2012). With the squad’s built-in functional diversity, their diverse background and experiences can help increase the quality of decision making in the Capitol Hill (Schneider et al., 2012). Diversity definitely comes with challenges, as Schneider et al. (2012) point out that in a diverse group there’s a decrease in communication and social interaction. However, if people focus on their similarity rather than their differences, they may not even experience decreases in these areas. Instead, they may be even more creative and innovative, and perhaps can finally drain the swamp? 


Abramson, A. (2019, July 18). How Ilhan Omar Rose From Refugee to Donald Trump’s Target. Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://time.com/5628844/ilhan-omar-profile/.

DeCosta-Klipa, N. (2018, August 31). Everything you need to know about Ayanna Pressley. Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://www.boston.com/news/politics/2018/08/31/ayanna-pressley-massachusetts-primary.

Flanagan, C. (2019, August 26). Ilhan Omar’s Opportunity. Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/08/where-ilhan-omar-failed/596743/.

Green, E. (2019, August 15). Trump Has Enabled Israel’s Antidemocratic Tendencies at Every Turn. Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/08/israel-bans-omar-tlaib/596167/.

Pengelly, M. (2019, July 15). ‘Go back home’: Trump aims racist attack at Ocasio-Cortez and other congresswomen. Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jul/14/trump-squad-tlaib-omar-pressley-ocasio-cortez.

Relman, E., & Ma, A. (2019, January 8). Meet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the millennial, socialist political novice who’s now the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://www.businessinsider.com/all-about-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-who-beat-crowley-in-ny-dem-primary-2018-6.

Schneider, F.W., Gruman J.A.,  & Coutts, L.M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Second Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. 

Schouten, F. (2019, September 14). Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slams shocking ad that aired during Democratic debate. Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/13/politics/aoc-criticizes-attack-ad/index.html.

Trump, D. [@realDonalTrump]. (2019, August 15). It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1162000480681287683?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1162000480681287683&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theatlantic.com%2Fpolitics%2Farchive%2F2019%2F08%2Fisrael-bans-omar-tlaib%2F596167%2F

Feb 19

Needed: Women in Cybersecurity

My husband, Brian, has managed several fairly large teams in the IT world and recently shifted into cybersecurity.  While the teams he managed before were roughly half men and half women, the most recent team he inherited, though ethnically and culturally diverse, is all men. In addition to this team in the United States, he also has one in Bangalore, India. Curiously, the India group does not suffer from the same type of lacking diversity; they are very evenly distributed between men and women. I was curious to uncover more details about this discrepancy and see if I could learn anything to help him increase his gender diversity here in the United States.

While he wants to ensure he is objective in selecting candidates from applicants to the roles that are opening on his team as it grows, he also understands the importance that diversity brings to a team environment.  From his past experience with a more diverse team, he recognizes firsthand the value that varied perspectives add when attempting to solve problems and collaborate.

I knew that few women work in cyber security but I did not know the extent of the problem until I started to do some research. The US Department of Homeland Security reports that only 13% of cyber security professionals are women (Bagchi-Sen, Rao, Upadhyaya & Chai, 2010). They go on to state that the percentage is even lower in Europe and Asia. I found this information a little confusing since Brian did not observe this same problem when he was in India just a few weeks ago. His company employs about 2000 IT professionals in Bangalore and about half of them are women. It is possible that in the last several years this situation has improved in India since this study was conducted in 2010. Brian reported that the vast number of billboards, not targeted at a specific gender, in Bangalore were adds to learn English and computers. This may have something to do with increasing the gender diversity in IT and cybersecurity in this area.

According to Bagchi-Sen, Rao, Upadhyaya, and Chai in their study entitled “Women in Cybersecurity: A Study of Career Advancement” (2010) one of the barriers to women entering the field of cyber security is the institutional barrier of the “hacker culture” in the IT world. They also cite reasons other reasons as lack of female role models and mentors in the field as well as the societal expectation that girls are not as good as boys in math and science which results in a confidence gap in these areas starting in middle school and growing even wider in high school. This form of sexism, treating someone in a different way due to their sex (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012), is just one of the many road blocks that hinder girls from pursuing a career that is intensive in math and science.

According to the study “Holistically Building the Cybersecurity Workforce” by Hoffman, Burley, and Toregas (2012) in order to correct the problem of so few women in the field it will take the combined efforts of educators, human resource professionals, and current cybersecurity professionals. As a cybersecurity professional Brian is attempting to do his part to encourage an increase in the number of women interested in the field.

In this new cybersecurity role, Brian said he is realizing that it is rare that his recruiters even find female candidates for his roles. One of the traps recruitment can fall into is searching purely on number of years of past experience.  If you are recruiting in a field that has an existing industry-wide gender gap, this method will only propagate the problem.  Other comparable fields to cybersecurity that his company recruits from are law enforcement, military, and IT, all of which have similar gender gaps.

One of the methods that he has proposed and is beginning to implement with his recruiting partners to hire in professionals with the aptitude and appetite to learn the field, not only those with direct experience.  Given the current industry shortage of cybersecurity professionals of all genders, this idea has gained traction at his company. He plans to utilize these methods and hopefully come up with more in the future to increase the number of women employed on his teams.



Bagchi-Sen, S., Rao, H., Upadhyaya, S., & Chai, S. (2010). Women in cybersecurity: A study of career advancement. IT Professional12(1), 24-31. doi: 10.1109/mitp.2010.39

Hoffman, L., Burley, D., & Toregas, C. (2012). Holistically building the cybersecurity workforce. IEEE Security & Privacy Magazine10(2), 33-39. doi: 10.1109/msp.2011.181

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Oct 18

Diversity Doubleheader

While visiting Baltimore to watch my beloved Houston Astros take on the Orioles aCamden Yards this weekend, I surprisingly found that the 23rd annual Baltimore Book Festival was running concurrently with the end of the baseball season. During the festival, I was fortunate enough to attend an entertaining and informative presentation by April Ryan, a Baltimore-born White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and a CNN contributor. In 21-years of reporting on the White House and its occupants, Ryan has made a name for herself as a tenacious journalist who is willing to ask the tough questions that concern diversity in America. At today’s appearance, Ryan disclosed one of the most difficult questions she has ever had to propose when she famously asked Donald Trump, “Mr. President, are you a racist” (Mr., 2018)? In furthering the discussion on the issue of racism, a look at its definition and several of its various forms is vital to increasing our understanding of this important social issue.

Our textbook defines racism as “bias against an individual or a group of individuals based on…race/ethnicity” (Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts, 2012, p. 333).  Before Ryan’s controversial question to President Trump, she had consulted with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to ask how they defined the term. Their response provided me an interesting viewpoint in which to view the topic. “Racism,” according to Ryan per the NAACP, is the “intersection between prejudice and power” (Ryan, 2018). Essentially, it is not enough to merely show bias towards someone based on their race or ethnicity, but the domineering person must feel some level of supremacy over the victim. This revelation was just one of the many I had in listening to Ryan speak of her experiences.

Since Ryan’s infamous inquiry, she has felt the consequences of blatant racism that many of us are most familiar with hearing about. She has received a barrage of emails and letters from individuals who have attacked her because of her skin color. These threats have not only been directed towards Ryan, but also her family, and she now employs a bodyguard for protection (Ryan, 2018). Ryan also spoke about the glaring racism she witnessed during the 2016 presidential campaign season as it relates to then President Barack Obama. In traveling the country covering the election, Ryan saw and heard an uprising of people who were angry because an African-American had reached the pinnacle of American politics. As the crowds grew in attendance and intensity, there was little doubt for Ryan that some people were enraged with the idea of a person of color with so much power (Ryan, 2018).

In some instances, individuals did not openly declare racist statements, but nevertheless, Ryan felt that forms of symbolic racism were apparent in their attitudes. This type of racism is not particularly directed at a certain ethnic group, but instead, aimed at a corresponding target or another “proxy-type factor” (Schneider et al., 2012, p. 334). One of these “targets” during the last presidential campaign was that of immigration reform, a topic that disproportionality affects people of different ethnicities. Proponents of stricter immigration policy argued that immigrants were taking jobs from unemployed Americans. As the campaign picked up steam, Ryan recalled the negative tone that shifted particularly towards Latinos (Ryan, 2018). People were not necessarily chastising these individuals publicly based on their ethnicity, but instead energetically cheered to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, and end programs that benefit immigrant children and their families.

Racism, in its many forms, is a pattern of prejudice based on one’s race or ethnicity from individuals who feel dominant over other people. This type of bias can be blatant in openly discriminating against someone or can be concealed as pure disagreement with factors associated with a particular minority group. During a recent presentation at the Baltimore Book Festival, April Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent, shared some of her experiences in dealing with bigotry. Over the last two years, she and her family have been victims of unabashed verbal assaults because of her race, and she has also witnessed less-obvious symbolic racism against other minority groups.

After Ryan’s appearance, I headed over to Camden Yards to watch the final regular season baseball game for my Astros, and the Orioles. While Houston is headed to the playoffs, Baltimore ended their season with an emotional farewell to Adam Jones, an African-American outfielder, who has spent the last 11 seasons starring for the O’s. With his every at-bat, a diverse crowd of fans rose to their feet and gave Jones one standing ovation after another. I have no idea who any of these people supported for president. I have no idea who was a racist, or not, in that crowd. But for a few hours in time, apparently it didn’t matter. The only color anyone was worried about was their team’s shade of orange. My team lost, but it still felt good.


“Mr. President, are you a racist?” (C-SPAN). (2018, January 12). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoBOueMfdcY

Ryan, A. D. (2018, September 30). Speech presented at Baltimore Book Festival, Baltimore.

Schneider, F.W., Gruman, J.A., & Coutts, L.A. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sep 18

The way diversity affects us

“Diversity brings about the opportunity to learn new perspectives and, in so doing, to increase creativity and innovativeness for both individuals and groups” (Gruman, Schneider, & Coutts, 2012). While I agree with that statement, I have to point out that diversity can obviously also lead to things such as prejudice, discrimination, and some conflict. We are all different based on how we look, how we behave, our background, gender, and socioeconomic status. Diversity can affect us positively or negatively and that can depend on many different things. One example that I would like to use is my own background and experiences.

I was born in Bosnia and was three years old when my family moved to Germany in order to escape the Yugoslavian war in the early 90s. We spent nearly nine years in Germany and, since I was so young when we moved, I had no memory of Bosnia. Germany and that culture was all that I knew. At that time, there were all sorts of people living in my town who came from a different culture. We all managed to blend in with the Germans, while also maintaining our own traditions. Somehow it all worked, so we experienced little to no discrimination. The negative conflicts that happened came in the late 90s when a few local government officials decided that it was time for a few of the Bosnian families to leave Germany. We were on that list and were given a choice – either go back to Bosnia or move to the United States. We chose the United States because there was nothing left for us in Bosnia and a few family members had already moved to the USA at that time.

We faced negative conflict and discrimination when we moved to the United States and had to yet again learn a new language and learn about the new culture. Although our new home had a diverse group as well, it somehow included more negative conflict. When we moved here, I was finishing the seventh grade and barely spoke English. It gave the other kids a reason to bully me, which affected my self-esteem.  They believed that their group was superior and that I was the ‘lower class’, so to speak. Thinking back on it, it made my social and personal identity stand out. “Social identity theory suggests that it is the context within which individuals find themselves that determines which type of identity – personal or social – will predominate” (Gruman, Schneider, & Coutts, 2012). I think that back then, the social identity dominated because the new environment that I found myself in evoked the sense of social identity. Now I would say the personal identity dominates more because I am more aware of myself and focus on that rather than the social group that I find myself in.

“Anywhere humans exist, diversity will exist” (Gruman, Schneider, & Coutts, 2012). We need to find ways to minimize discrimination and find resolutions that can maximize positive outcomes because in the end it affects all of us and we all have the common goal of embracing our differences and living in peace.




Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.

Apr 18

Classifying Ourselves into Seclusion

Social Categorization, a mechanism that all humans have, is a built in file cabinet deep within the social cognitive process of the brain. Social categorization allows humans the ability to understand relationships and make sense of other people and the world we live in. This social cognitive mechanism allows our brains to classify people into groups (PSUWC, Lesson 6). This natural process helps our brains to identify what is safe and what is a threat to our survival. What is survival? The Oxford Dictionary defines survival as “the continued existence of organisms, which are best adapted to their environment, with the extinction of others…”(Survival. n.d.). It is also defined in the Oxford dictionary as, “the state or fact of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of an accident, ordeal, or difficult circumstances.”(Survival. n.d.). For this purpose, I am going to incorporate Darwins’ Theory of Evolution as defined as, is the process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioral traits. Changes that allow an organism to better adapt to its environment will help it survive and have more offspring.”(Than. 2018) As you can see the Oxford definition of “Survival” and Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution” go hand in hand and are very similar. It is safe to state that in order to survive; One’s brain must adapt social cognitive mechanisms, by processing the every change world in to processes to survive. This social cognitive categorization not only affects people physically, but also cognitive processes. By experiences, people are subjected to help define their social identity and social dominance to survive. Social Identity Theory incorporates both personal identity and social identity. Personal identity can be a combination of objective biosocial personal markers and subjective personal experiences (PSUWC. Lesson 6.). Social identity comes from self-concept. What defines self-concept? Well self-concept come from self-categorization based on the knowledge, acceptance, connection and commitment to a group (PSUWC, Lesson 6). Humans have built a file cabinet that defines who they are, which can influence survival. If a person has high self-concept and feel apart of a group then the possibility of mental illness also lowers. Leaving less deaths to things such as suicide. I hope your still following me, I know I am touch on these topics, but it all relevant. For example, in Today’s society it is acceptable to have what we classify as appropriate groups and not appropriate groups. Everyone’s perception of this differs in certain ways. Children is the easiest way to see this. If you look a one class, you have students that are skinny, short, pudgy, tall, athletic, smarter than others…ect. These are all categories, that are socially acceptable.

One day you are eating lunch with your child and another child from the classroom has an outburst. The staff try to console them, in your mind you are trying to make sense of why this child all of a sudden had an outburst. Some may think they are not disciplined, that they must have problems at home, that they have anger issues ect… This is how our brains are processing the unexpected action of another child. Then your child mentions that this child is different and it happens all the time, so now your brain, put this child into a special needs category and your concerned for the safety of children. This example is pretty short and sweet. However it does happen. That child is what is categorized as autistic. The outburst was from a heighten sensory issue due to the noise of the lunchroom. This child will most likely not eat for the rest of the day, much less function a productive scale. You have no knowledge or experience with autistic children, you may advise your child to stay away from this child for fear of being different or safety of your child. What this does is start a vicious process to exclude this child for acting typical to their needs. If you have a headache, you go to a quiet space. Sensory processing issues are heighten typical issues that the brain can not process. The end of this situation is that Social categorization happened and started the process of seclusion, because their reaction is not what society deems typical. However, what is not well known that in the past ten years people identified with autism has increased 119% (Autism Society. 2015.). Darwin’s theory states evolution is the process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioral traits. Changes that allow an organism to better adapt to its environment will help it survive and have more offspring.”(Than.2018) This rise in people being identified with autism could be a natural change in evolution. Based on the Oxford Dictionary is child survives,  based on the state or fact of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of an accident, ordeal, or difficult circumstances.”(Survival. n.d.) However, because this child is categorized by society and is excluded from social groups, they suffer from lack of self-concept. They are seen as the less dominate within their peer groups. What society doesn’t know about these children is they are the pros at categorizing information, they can synthesis greater concepts beyond our understanding. They are just missing their voice, their self-concept. Unfortunately, in Today’s society we have adults that are excluded based on “disability”. A Categorization for society to make sense of the world. However, our dated evolution has everything in our lives categorized, to the extent of seclusion that is influencing survival.



Autism Society.Facts and Statistics. (2015, August 26). Retrieved April 02, 2018, from http://www.autism-society.org/what-is/facts-and-statistics/

PSU World Campus. (2018). PSYCH 424:Social Psychology. Lesson 6: Intergroup Relations/Diversity. https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1924488/assignments/9628601?module_item_id=23682597

Survival | Definition of survival in English by Oxford Dictionaries. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/survival

Than, K. (2018, February 26). What is Darwin’s Theory of Evolution? Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://www.livescience.com/474-controversy-evolution-works.html

Feb 17

Homogeneity Breeds Prejudice

Growing up, I was constantly being introduced to different cultures, ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds. I remember being fascinated at the vast amount of cultural traditions and nuances, and I craved to meet new people, people with different stories. In Damascus, Syria, attending an International High School quenched my thirst for meeting different people, as the student making up the school were mostly children of diplomats who were stationed in Damascus. I had friends from all four corners of the world – from Buenos Aires, to Ghana, to Amsterdam. For me it felt natural being in a diverse environment, and I wouldn’t know any other way of interacting.

That was until I move to Yerevan, Armenia around four years ago. During the first few months, it was both comforting yet strange to be in a country where everyone is of the same ethnicity, of the same nationality, and of the same religion – everyone is Armenian, following the Apostolic church. It first felt comforting because I felt like I was ‘home’, being in my own country with ‘my’ people. But it was also strange at the same time because I was not used to the homogeneity. It was when I enrolled at the American University of Armenia that I began to notice the prejudice that existed here.

There was only one international student in the freshman class, and he was from India. I will not disclose any names for the protection of this individual’s privacy. I first was oblivious to it, since I had never witnessed first hand people exhibited prejudice towards another person. Slowly but surely, I noticed the whispers when this student walked into a class; I noticed how everyone else created a bubble around if as if he were contagious. This student was picked on, laughed at, and publicly humiliated on many occasions. I was ashamed and appalled at my peers’ behavior, and the first thing I did was blame it on their characters – believing that they were a bunch of disrespectful bullies, who are also immature for exhibiting this type of behavior – ultimately falling prey to the fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution error underlies that we find it easier to explain other people’s behavior in terms of personal dispositions, rather than thinking about situational factors that could have played in a role in their actions (Schneider et al., 2012). The more people I saw exhibiting prejudiced behavior towards another, the more people I ended up attributing being disrespectful and horrible to.

It was not until much later that year on a day that I was reminiscing my high school days when I had an epiphany. I was introduced to diverse environment growing, but Armenians who were born and raised in Armenia here never had. There is little to no diversity in Armenia, so how could these people ever be accustomed to a diverse environment when they have never been in one? Their entire lives has been underlined by the similar-to-me effect – since everyone around them is similar to them, they have been accustomed to perceiving others who are like themselves more favorably than others (Schneider et al., 2012).

This is fortunately taking a turn for the better in Armenia. Tourism has seen a boost in recent years, which means locals are being introduced more and more to individuals of different ethnicities and backgrounds. A lot of citizens of neighboring countries have also come to Armenia to start business, and there has been a huge influx of Syrian Armenians (due to the civil unrest in Syria). I am noticing how the dynamic has changed between local Armenians and an individual who is not from here – and it is definitely a great aspect to witness. Gordon Allport introduced the contact hypothesis, which “assumes that positive contact with members of an out-group could decrease negative stereotyping of the out-group by the in-group and lead to improved intergroup relations” (pg. 343, Schneider et al., 2012. I definitely see a link between this hypothesis and what I have experienced throughout my four years here by observing in-groups (Armenians) contact with out-groups. The more that Armenians had contact with anybody who is different than they are, the more they are not only developing acceptance, but also realizing the great outcomes of meeting diverse individuals.

Thank you for reading,

Hilda Yacoubian



Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Nov 16

Social Change: Action research


quote-no-research-without-action-no-action-without-research-kurt-lewin-136-14-90Not all of us will become professional scientists, but most thinking persons are lay scientists. For example, we all make predictions about the outcomes of various choices at our disposal in our daily life through an informal and largely unconscious process. Similarly, those of us who are personally invested in (any pro-social) career outside of basic research nonetheless conduct informal action research in the pursuit of successful outcomes. By definition, action research occurs when individuals seek to influence the community they are a part of, and therefore have a vested interest in (Lewin, 1946, in Scheider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012).

In order to become a better doctor, for example, one must not only stay on the cutting edge of medicine, but must also learn how to achieve greater patient compliance with medical directives. If patients aren’t compliant, a physician might dig deeper to find out why individuals don’t act in accordance with medical advice. He or she might wonder, are patients confused about instructions, unable to afford prescribed medications, or embarrassed to discuss side effects, fears, or other concerns? Could they disagree with or distrust the physician’s goals? These types of questions exhibit more than simple curiosity—they indicate an underlying desire to improve health outcomes more effectively through heightened awareness of patients’ personal and cultural needs.

If we want to systematize this informal process of examination so that our own findings may contribute to broader understanding, participatory action research is an avenue that capitalizes on the insights tharcat can be gained through being on the front lines of a pressing social concern. This iterative cycle of inquiry and reflection (Kolk, n.d.) allows us to—to paraphrase Paulo Friere, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970/1993)—both educate, and be educated by, the very people we study (Brydon-Miller, 1997). At the core of this approach is the fundamental belief that authentic knowledge cannot be generated without the participation and perspective of the communities investigated.

People in various careers participate in action research, not the least of which is education. Dick Sagor, former high school principal and current Director of the Institute for the Study of Inquiry in Education, encourages teachers to collaborate with each other as action researchers (Kolk, n.d.). By pooling their experiences and results, he says, teachers became more invested and successful, boosting teacher satisfaction as well as school culture. Melinda Kolk, editor of Creative Educator lays out a template for would-be action researchers in the classroom environment to follow if they wish to formalize their informal processes (Kolk, n.d.). By progressing through the action research cycle, they can reap the benefits of promoting effective change in their own classrooms, while potentially benefiting students and teachers in the broader community should their research be published.

I can’t help but think that adopting an action researcher mentality, regardless of one’s career, would provide a greater sense of fulfillment and purpose to daily tasks. A sense of ongoing inquisitiveness, paired with a commitment to the greater good, would particularly enrich those whose career choice puts them into frequent contact with disadvantaged or marginalized groups.

Brydon‐Miller, M. (1997). Participatory action research: Psychology and social change. Journal of Social Issues, 53(4), 657-666. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00042.

Kolk, M. Embrace action research. Retrieved November 17, 2016, from Creative Educator, http://www.thecreativeeducator.com/v07/articles/Embracing_Action_Research

Kolk, M. K. M. Interview with Dick Sagor. Retrieved November 17, 2016, from http://www.thecreativeeducator.com/v07/articles/Interview_Dick_Sagor

Retrieved November 17, 2016, from http://www.azquotes.com/picture-quotes/quote-no-research-without-action-no-action-without-research-kurt-lewin-136-14-90.jpg

Schneider, F., Gruman, J., & Coutts, L. (2012) Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.



Nov 16

Stigma in the community is caused by diversity and differences

Is already known that stigma can cause a big impact in the social environment. Unfortunately, stigma is more common then what we can think, and is present everywhere. Stigma happens when we label other people or treat them differently because of a personal characteristic or a different behavior that make them look deviant or flawed (Schneider, Grumman, & Coutts, 2012, p. 284). Many physical or emotional aspects of a person can cause stigma such as age, gender orientation, religious choices and beliefs, social causes and diseases (Bresnahan, & Zhuang, 2016, p. 1284). In Greek, the work stigmatizein means to blemish and is one of the first words in early human history to be applied to the act of labeling others. No matter the reason why anyone should use stigma against others, it is very clear that stigma can cause negative effects and plays an important role influencing people’s behavior and reactions (Bresnahan, & Zhuang, 2016, p. 1284).

There is no a specific way to control or radically change stigma nowadays because of the large societies where we live. In the past, social interactions were formed by smaller groups and it was easier for people to process social cues of their environment. They also had the chance to have different constructs because their perception about their environment was limited (PSU, WC, Psych 424, lesson 11, 2016). Nowadays, we all face different social challenges and social interactions because our groups are larger; the concepts of social environment have changed since we developed a fast pace lifestyle, acquired technological communication tools and grew our cities. Our over-populated communities resulted in stimulus-overload, making us feel overwhelmed with all the cues that we must process (Schneider, et al., 2012, p. 279). Because of this enormous amount of new information every day and the he diversity we are exposed to in our communities, we tend to withdraw from social interactions and seclude ourselves into a limited environment. This is the most accurate description of big cities lifestyle and socialization (PSU, WC, Psych 424, lesson 11, 2016).

Because of this big mixture of innovation in our larger communities’ stigma is more popular than ever, and most people tend to have some source of stigma (Bresnahan, & Zhuang, 2016). The American larger communities are formed by people from all over the world, which means there are racial, language, habit and belief differences between most members of the community. Sometimes it can be difficult for some people to interact with one another when their habits and beliefs are very different (Steinberg, 2014). This big diversity is the cause for much of the stigmatization present in our communities. Normally, when people label or judge others they tend to discard or ignore the diversity factor that influences people behaviors (Schneider, et al., 2012, p. 285). The stigma normally originates when people with stigmatized conditions are marked by the public as unacceptable in some ways. Usually their ancestry, ethnicity, religious and cultural habits are left behind by bystanders. Thus, very often negative emotions such as anger and fear are triggered by stigmatized conditions and lead to negative behavioral reactions such as avoidance and rejection of stigmatized individuals (Bresnahan, & Zhuang, 2016).

Not only stigma leads to misperceptions, but it also makes people ignore each other’s needs in an emergency. The bystander effect may be caused by some social stigma and people in larger communities many times fail to provide help to strangers because they are unable to perceive social cues due to stigma (Latané, & Nida, 1981). In many cases, people from large communities have other priorities and a rushed lifestyle, they create social barriers and this make it possible for them to use stigma more frequently (Schneider, et al., 2012, p. 280); when situations involving strangers happen, they often are unware or just fail to give help because they assume others will come to the rescue (Latané, & Nida, 1981).

Many researchers have found that stigma is related to cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses and those can be the explanations for stigma caused by the diversity in large communities. To reduce the stigma existent in those areas, social justice and respect for diversity need to be assessed and taught everywhere; maybe with this type of interventions we might be able to reduce the effects stigma has over people, improving social interactions (Schneider, et al. 2012, p.284). This core value will not terminate stigma completely, but will diminish its’ effects. Maybe the lifestyle in big cities would change a little bit; the formation of smaller interacting groups would help the process to reduce stigma and will help people to develop social copying skills. Community psychology is the field used to implement this source of social interventions (Schneider, et al., 2012, p. 291). When I talk about changing the lifestyle in big cities, I am referring to the fact that the stigma existent now causes much of a social impact, that it results in social inhibition (Latané, & Nida, 1981. P. 309).



Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., Akert, R. M., & Sommers, S. R. (2016). Social psychology (Ninth ed.). New York: Pearson.

Bresnahan, M., & Zhuang, J. (2016). Detrimental effects of community-based stigma. American Behavioral Scientist, 60(11), 1283-1292. doi:10.1177/0002764216657378. Retrieved from: http://abs.sagepub.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/content/60/11/1283.full.pdf+html

Latané, B., & Nida, S. (1981). Ten years of research on group size and helping. Psychological Bulletin, 89(2), 308-324. Retrieved from http://ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/docview/614356949?accountid=13158

Penn State University, World Campus (Fall, 2016). Psych 424: Lesson 11. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1802487/discussion_topics/11378506?module_item_id=21233994

Schneider, F.W., Grumman, J.A., & Coutts, L.M. (2012) Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Steinberg, S. (2014). The long view of the melting pot. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37(5), 790-794. doi:10.1080/01419870.2013.872282. Retrieved from http://www-tandfonline-com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/doi/abs/10.1080/01419870.2013.872282

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