Guest viewpoint: Inclusivity, honesty in representation and celebrating diversity: a case example with the UO psychology department website

This piece reflects the views of the author, Jennifer M. Gómez, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues

It was a Saturday morning when I stumbled onto the UO psychology department website, which gives a glimpse of what psychology is, what psychology can be and who can be in psychology. What I found was foreign to me.

The pictures of individuals were predominantly people who presented as white men; the only females included were a child in one picture and faceless, ostensibly adult white women in another. Are these fair representations of women in psychology? Where are the diverse men and women of color?

This is not the department that I know.

Undoubtedly homogenous in many respects, the psychology department I know is relatively diverse in terms of race, ethnicity and nationality, with both men and women conducting top-notch research. The department I know consists of faculty and graduate students from different races and genders who are recognized within and beyond UO for their work, including receiving UO CAS awards, UO Graduate School Promising Scholar Awards, NSF fellowships and Ford Foundation fellowships.

The department I know encourages graduate students to pursue culturally relevant work that has implications for minority populations. Presented by honor’s society Psi Chi, my upcoming UO talk, Sexual Violence at College: From Betrayal and Inequality to Research and Action for April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month is one example of the department’s support. Thus, the department I know is decidedly not a white men only environment. What can explain this portrayal on the website?

One possible explanation is implicit bias, such as men being associated with career and science more strongly than women. Because it occurs on sub-conscious levels, implicit bias (or implicit association) may be different than explicit values. For instance, I believe in equality explicitly, however, when I close my eyes and think “researcher”, I automatically picture a middle-aged, white man.

It is possible that when creating images for the UO psychology department website, implicit bias, like what I have described, leaned in favor of featuring those who presented as white men, while white women were shown exclusively as bodies and men and women of diverse non-white races were almost excluded entirely.

Another less-charged potential explanation is convenience. Though this may not be wholly unrelated to implicit bias, convenience, time pressure and efficiency may have placed the priority on getting images that would represent the research domains in the department; the goals of presenting the department on the website appear not to have included accurately portraying the department’s racial or gender diversity.

Such exclusion puts forth the erroneous message that psychology is a field by white men and for white men, with the possibilities for study and advancement catering to white men. What message might this be sending to prospective scholars, including undergraduates, who expect diversity as a necessary aspect of excellence?

Whether due to implicit bias, convenience, and/or other causes, the current UO psychology department website highlights the need to actively pursue inclusivity, including celebrating diversity, in all endeavors. Simply wishing for a department that is not exclusionary can lead to inadvertently presenting a homogenous image that misrepresents the department in all of its colorful glory.

Therefore, instead of segregating inclusivity to certain events, certain committees, certain labs and certain classes, the department, the university as a whole and all the individuals in it could strive to meaningfully and thoughtfully incorporate inclusivity—from developing a website to attending events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month—with sensitivity, self-reflection and humility.

Jennifer M. Gómez is a doctoral candidate in the UO Department of Psychology, Ford Fellow, and coeditor of the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation special issue, Self Injury & Suicidality: The Impact of Trauma & Dissociation.